Learning through pretend play

Have you ever watched or listened to your child engage in pretend play with toys? With friends? You will probably hear your own words and tones reflected in the little one’s play. If you give your child a very large cardboard box, what kind of structure will it become in his or her imagination?

How does pretend play help your child?

During pretend play, children learn about the power of language as they reenact stories and situations. As this learning process proceeds, their increased comfort levels grant them the confidence to begin experimenting with more challenging experiences. Additionally, as children engage in dramatic play, they start making sense of the world by actively experimenting with social and emotional roles. Children also build self-esteem as they discover they can pretend to be anything or anyone they want.

During cooperative pretend play, children interact with friends or adults while creatively problem-solving and practicing communication skills — which, in turn, helps develop their social skills. As children pretend during play with others, they learn to cooperate, negotiate, share, and wait their turn. Just as importantly, they learn empathy as they pretend to be different characters. Such activity enables them to take on another person’s perspective, granting them understanding of the thoughts and feelings of others. Pretend play is imaginative, fun, creative, and essential to child development.

You can use the power of pretend play to talk about scenarios which will keep children safe. For example pretending to be a fireman can spark a conversation about what to do in a real fire and what sort of things may start a fire.

How can you encourage pretend play at home?

Provide your child with a space in your home for dramatic play. Children often enjoy pretending under a table or a play tent. The area should be changed regularly with different props or toys in the interest of stimulating their creative faculties. Also, encourage pretend play to move outdoors — particularly as the weather improves — and let your children explore in a whole new way.

Things you may like to try:

- Telephones, flashlights

- Stuffed animals & dolls

- Magazines, shopping bags, laundry baskets

- Fabric pieces, blankets, old sheets to make a fort

- Cash register, play money, old computer or keyboard

- Old clothes, shoes, backpacks, pocketbooks, hats, gloves

- Cooking utensils, dishes, plastic containers, silk flowers, recycled grocery boxes

- Writing materials – colored pencils, markers, colored note paper, envelopes, clipboard

- Cardboard boxes

Enjoy seeking out materials and themes that will spark and nurture your child’s imagination at home:

Based on an original article by Sandy Siegman, M.S. Ed.

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