As a parent, you likely have more concerns over your child's health and well-being than playtime. You can see the value in a daily multivitamin drop, but you may struggle to see the point of dress-up at preschool or daycare. For many parents, a school is a place for learning the ABCs, not playing house.
Still, while the value might not be clear, it is real. Pretend and active play are cornerstones of childhood development. Through play, your little one develops a sense of self and begins the foundation of a productive and purposeful social life.
What is Pretend Play?
While redundant, pretend play is a variation of active play. A more accurate term is dramatic play, which provides opportunities for creative thinking, analytical skills, and conflict resolution skills. Primarily, pretending also allows your little one the space to express themselves.
Pretend play is the pursuit and use of imagination. Your child acts out different scenarios, creating stories. The stories give your little one a way to interpret their world and experiences; in that sense, pretend play is more about developing necessary social and intrapersonal skills to navigate the world, culture, and environment.
When Should You Encourage Pretend Play?
You do not have to wait for your child to reach a specific age before encouraging pretend play. Babies and toddlers will have different experiences or preferences, but each age group can and will benefit.
Many parents engage in pretend play with babies without even realizing it. Games like peek-a-boo and pat-a-cake help little ones put words and motions together. Also, playing with stuffed toys, mirrors, cars, and plush toys to engage the mind and encourage thinking is an act of creative play.
As children age, their imaginations and minds become more complex, allowing for more sophisticated forms of play. They create stories, imagine heroes' journeys and toy with conflict. Encourage all children, regardless of age, to practice pretend play.
Benefits of Pretend Play
While pretend play may seem nonsense to adults, it is essential to a child's education and development. Not only does pretending encourage self-expression and creative thinking, but it also helps develop communication skills and emotional self-regulation.
Also, while pretend play often includes other children, it contributes to independent thinking. Creative play encourages your little one to take risks with their imagination, forging strong roots in autonomy, confidence, and self-esteem.
Supports Emotional & Social Development
Pretend play helps your little one build confidence and independence, but it is more about emotional and social development in a school or daycare setting. Playing house or any game with a group of children forces your child to play a part in a larger story. They must navigate relationships and manage expectations to fit in with the group, all skills essential to adult life.
The stakes are low but still important with children and pretend or creative play. If your little one does not learn to share the spotlight or insists on having their way, they will find it difficult to make friends. Playing together is about learning to interact within a group and thrive.
How You Can Get Involved
As with most social behaviors, your little one takes cues from you. Your child can learn to share playtime by practicing with you as a baby and toddler. While your little one may start by playing peek-a-boo, it is only a matter of time before they start telling tales and pretending to be princes or princesses. Help them navigate future friendships by teaching them about sharing and communication.
Pretend play is essential to social and independent development. While it may not seem as vital as nutrition, it is. Your child will use the skills they learn through creative or imaginative play to foster relationships, manage emotions, and develop confidence. Regardless of your child's age, it is never too early to encourage pretend play.