‘Pretend play’ is important to kids’ development

Learn how and why to encourage your child’s imagination

A 3-year old boy is dressed up in a fireman costume and using a vacuum cleaner hose to pretend that he is putting out a fire.

Between ages 2 and 3, your child will begin to use wonderful thinking skills during pretend play.

It’s common for your child to act out familiar routines with props around the house; pretending to make dinner, sweeping and mopping floors, or making a pizza out of a small round pillow. Why is this play so important in your child’s development? Your child is learning many skills during pretend play and there are ways for parents to encourage it.

What is pretend play?

At times, you may wonder, “Where did my child come up with this?” or “My child sure has a wild imagination!”

Through pretend play, your child is using their imagination to act out common scenarios they experience or see on a regular basis. When you see your child pretending to talk on the phone, shave their face, put lipstick on for the party, or use keys to unlock a play car, you are witnessing pretend play.

Pretend play and development

Pretend play — also known as imaginative play or dramatic play — is a crucial part of early child development.

  • Thinking skills: Your child uses their memory and thinking skills to problem solve while recreating past experiences and acting them out.
  • Social skills: Your child uses language and vocabulary to explain what they are doing, describe events, and engage in pretend play with others.
  • Regulating emotions: Your child is using and identifying emotions while acting out different roles.
  • Early math: Your child may pretend to cook supper and use measuring cups with numbers or be the restaurant cashier, which all expose them to numbers and counting.

Encourage your child’s pretend play

Easy materials for you and your child to play with include:

  • A cardboard box can become a house, an airplane or a cave.
  • A favorite blanket can make a cape, or parachute or a city street for cars.
  • Empty toilet paper rolls become a microphone or a telescope to see the moon.

Participate in your child’s pretend play

  • If your child approaches you with a piece of paper and a pen to take your food order, ask them for a hamburger and fries and ask how much it will cost.
  • When your child calls you on his or her pretend banana phone, answer yours and have a conversation about your evening plans.

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Posted In Children's, Parenting

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