Why Kids Pretend Play Is So Important
September 13, 2021
What is Pretend Play?
Kids pretend play is simply the ability for your child to create imaginative scenarios in which they participate and, often, play one or more roles. Kids pretend play can involve toys that encourage them to take on these roles and imagined personas. Some popular types of pretend play toys include the following:
- Play kitchens with utensils
- Pretend food items
- Farms or other animals
- Sports paraphernalia like basketball, golf, football, tennis, etc.
- Professional equipment for doctors, builders, mechanics, etc.
What are the Stages of Pretend Play?
There are 3 generally recognized stages of pretend play, and they roughly correlate to your child’s age. We’ve listed each stage below and some of the highlights you may notice or look for in your own child:
- Pre-symbolic play (14-18 mts.): kids will mimic every day activities, usually with a single “prop” or item that they’ve observed their parents or caretakers using. Advanced children may involve themselves in pretend scenarios
- Symbolic play (2-3 yrs.): during this type of play, your child may exhibit more emotional involvement with scenarios, and may also sequence multiple actions together. This demonstrates that they understand consequences and cause and effect.
- Advanced symbolic play (4+ years): starting at 4 years old, kids may be able to act out scenarios that they have not personally experienced, and visualize the perspective of multiple roles.
Why Does Kids Pretend Play Matter?
Is pretend play important? The short, incomplete answer is: yes. There are at least 4 primary benefits to encouraging and fostering an atmosphere of pretend play in your home; each is discussed further below.
Especially during their younger years, children often start practicing pretend play alone. They are not psychologically or emotionally developed to create imaginary scenarios that involve anyone outside themselves. But, it’s crucial for children to be able to entertain themselves, without outside help or stimulation - particularly from electronic devices.
Imagination and creativity will drive how your child expresses themselves artistically, emotionally, and even intellectually. The demands of school work and professional careers often require a high degree of imaginative capacity. Additionally, developing a flourishing imagination will help your child enjoy literature, music, art, poetry, and other forms of expression that are very important to the human experience.
Pretend play is all about making something from nothing, or at least making something much grander, larger, and more sophisticated than it is in reality. To create pretend situations and toys, kids have to learn to envision items as something completely different. How can a broom become a horse, or a trampoline become a ski slope? The ability to picture a truly different reality means that, when they’re older, children will be able to creatively problem solve by considering different scenarios and thinking outside of the box. Standardized schooling is designed to impart rote knowledge, meaning things that can be memorized and recited. But, independently-driven pretend play accesses and develops entirely different skill sets that will be valuable to children throughout their entire life.
Become Familiar With Their Proclivities and Areas of Interest
As your child gets older and enters more formal learning environments, you will begin to understand where they are gifted, and the subjects that interest them most. Encouraging them to participate in pretend play early on can provide indications to you (the parents), caretakers, and teachers about what motivates your child. Additionally, you’ll likely begin to understand how your child relates to others, and their ability to participate in creative, pretend play with other kids. These social skills will become even more important as your child progresses and needs to process more complex emotions like empathy.