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Our Blog: September 29, 2020

Make-Believe Is Magically Educational

GettyImages-503458534Did you know every area of your child’s development can be enriched with pretend play? During this time when children are not able to play with other children as frequently, it is especially important to encourage and participate in your child’s pretend play experiences.  

Here are some fun ways that this kind of play engages children in essential life and personal skills, as well as increases their knowledge of the world around them. 

Social/Emotional Development 

Research has found that children who participate in pretend play benefit in a variety of ways. 

  • Empathy: Children show higher levels of empathy and compassion because pretend play helps them practice putting themselves in another person’s shoes.  

  • Overcoming fears: Dramatic play experiences can also help children learn how to cope with something that they fear or have anxiety about. A child who is fearful of the doctor may role-play in order to become more at ease with a situation that is out of their control.  

  • Social skills: Pretend play also helps children develop a variety of social skills, such as: 

  • Identifying and managing their own emotions 

  • Reading social cues 

  • Cooperation 

  • Negotiation 

  • Self-control 

Additional development impact the following areas: 

Language & Communication Development 

Pretend play helps children understand the power and importance of language. During imaginary play, you often hear a child repeat words and phrases that you, or other adults, have said to them. Playing with language and learning rich, interesting words strengthens a child’s vocabulary development, which in turn is a strong predictor of future literacy skills.  

Physical Development 

By encouraging dramatic play, parents help children develop both fine and gross motor skills. Children focus on hand-eye coordination and visual skills that will later aid in the ability to read and write. 

Cognitive Development 

Free unstructured pretend play is vital for children to develop problem-solving and reasoning skills. Dramatic play encourages children to use their imagination by acting out scenes they are familiar with. This ability to think symbolically and creatively is the precursor to all future literacy and math skills. 

There are a variety of ways that you can promote pretend play at home.  

  • Effective toys: Provide simple, realistic toys for children to interact with. Play kitchens, dolls, tool benches, shopping carts with pretend food, costumes (such as doctor scrubs, firefighter and police officer uniforms, mail carrier, restaurant server, and pilot uniforms), and cardboard boxes will encourage rich dramatic play. Loud, overstimulating toys can actually stifle children’s creativity and imagination. 

  • Expressing through puppets: Provide dolls and puppets for your child. These toys allow the children to explore and express their own feelings.  

  • Create a box of props: These boxes contain themed materials. For example, you may have a veterinarian prop box that contains a lab coat, stuffed animals, stethoscope, bandages, and any other props you may have that could be found in a veterinary office.  

  • Costumes: Allow your child to experiment with different costumes and avoid over-emphasizing gender roles.  

  • Take your time: Perhaps most important, make sure you spend time interacting with your child. While independent play is important, there is no substitute for the knowledge a child gains from interacting with mom or dad.  

Young children learn by imagining, playing, and doing. So when you see your child riding a pretend pony and wrangling up stray cattle, grab your cowboy boots and join in! 

About the Author

Dr. Susan Canizares

Dr. Susan Canizares is the Chief Academic Officer at Learning Care Group, responsible for leading all aspects of the educational mission. Dr. Canizares earned her Ph.D. in language and literacy development from Fordham University and a master’s degree in special education, specializing in Early Childhood, from New York University. She has authored more than 100 nonfiction photographic titles for beginning readers. Some of her published credits include Side by Side Series: Little Raccoon Catches a Cold and A Writer’s Garden.