The Benefits of Pretend Play in Child Development

While considered fun and imaginative, your children pretending to play in the classroom or at home is often valued less than academic learning. However, when children play house, create a pretend restaurant or dress up like characters, they are learning to solve problems, coordinate, cooperate and think more flexibly. For these reasons, pretend play should be just as valued as classroom education and academic activities.

Children learn about themselves and the world around them

Pretend play experiences are some of the first ways children learn about likes and dislikes, interests and abilities. They’ll experiment with role playing and learn to make sense of what they observe. If you watch children playing with dolls, you’ll see a great example of this, as dolls often become versions of the child and are a safe way for kids to express ideas and feelings.

Working out confusing, scary or new life issues

Maybe you’ve seen your child pretend to visit the doctor. One child holds the mock stethoscope as the others wait for a check-up. They also often pretend to give shots. This is a great way for a child to explore a common experience that can be scary and confusing to them. Children will become more comfortable and prepared for life events in a safe way. They might also use pretend play to work out personal challenging life events too, such as a family illness, death, absence of a parent or a home disaster.

Developing complex social and higher order thinking skills

Pretend play can require advanced thinking strategies, communication and social skills. Through pretend play, children can learn to negotiate, consider others’ perspectives, transfer knowledge, balance their own ideas with others’ ideas, develop a plan and act on it, express and listen to new ideas and information and explore symbolism. These are the types of skills that adults need to have to successfully manage a work project, and therefore they are crucial to a child’s development.

Cultivating social and emotional intelligence

How we interact with others is the key to lifelong success and happiness. Learning how to read social cues, recognizing and regulating emotions, negotiating and taking turns and engaging in a long-term activity that is mutually beneficial are all essential life skills. Creative and pretend play is the best way to teach and enhance these abilities in children.

Synthesizing knowledge and skills

Children need opportunities to blend their skills and knowledge together. Pretend play is a great way to do this. Think about children when they play ‘store’. They sort pretend food, use math concepts to decide on costs, write signs, experiment with shapes and weights and work collaboratively as they assign roles and play with their friends.

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