Five reasons to encourage pretend play:

1. To encourage imagination and creativity:

  • Builds a child’s ability for flexibility and then creativity.
  • How to think for themselves.
  • Helps children understand another point of view.

2. Supports social and emotional development:

  • As they pretend to be different people or control objects, they are practicing social and emotional roles of life.
  • They learn how to walk in someone else’s shoes – often mum or dad.
  • Develop self-esteem and self-awareness.
  • Learn how to recognise and respond to others feelings when involved in group imaginary activities.

3. Improves language and communication skills:

  • They learn new language that they might not encounter every day.
  • It’s fun and provides opportunities for discussion.
  • Gives them control and can help decrease anxiety as language becomes more familiar.
  • They have to communicate their thoughts to others – an essential social skill.

4. Develops thinking, learning, and problem-solving abilities:

  • By the nature of pretend play, children are presented with problems and scenarios to solve or plan.
  • How to cope/change when something doesn’t go to plan in a game.
  • Develop their memory.
  • Abstract thinking – when an object/person takes on a different meaning.

5. Enhances physical development:

  • Often physical – e.g. being an aeroplane, climbing ladders as a fire fighter, etc.
  • Fine motor skills developed while feeding and dressing a doll.
  • Learning about rough and tumble and limits.

How to encourage pretend play:

  • Play together face to face so your child can copy your gestures/pretend actions.
  • Follow your child’s lead – play with things your child is interested in.
  • Keep it simple – repetition is fun.
  • Take turns – the play becomes a “conversation.”
  • Choose the right toys.
  • Introduce new ideas when they can link ideas together – e.g. if they like to play with cars, take them to the mechanic.

Benefits of pretend play:

  • Allows you new ways to connect with your child.
  • You can follow their lead and join in with their interests.
  • Motivating and connecting for all involved.
  • Helps your child think symbolically.
  • Develops critical thinking.

Toys for pretend play:

  • Vehicles (not just for boys!)
    • Common in children’s lives – so good for simple pretend.
    • They can put a driver in and go to the mechanic.
    • Use a shoe box to make a car/bus.
  • Playdough – In early play, make simple/familiar objects. Later, make food for the tea set, make roads, etc.
  • Costumes and props – old hats/shoes/scarves/coats. Bags/briefcase/boxes for store/shop, etc.
  • Favourite stuffed animal or doll – great for feeding and pretending real life situations.
  • Puppets – moving parts help them come to “life.”
    • Encourages joint/peer play in older children.
  • Blocks and lego – initially might build simple and familiar objects (e.g. house/car). Later might “pretend” that individual blocks are something real (e.g. a bed/food for animals, etc.).
  • Toy food/dishes/groceries – initially feed the animal, later then a restaurant, have a tea party.