5 Benefits of Pretend Play

From fostering creativity to encouraging your child's social and emotional growth, pretend play—or imaginative play—is beneficial for numerous reasons.

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If you've ever stepped inside your child's daycare—or a preschool classroom—you've likely noticed different spaces, sometimes referred to as centers. These areas are full of play foods, props, and maybe even costumes. Your kiddo is thrilled, of course, but you may wonder isn't learning the ABCs more important than playing? Well, maybe. But maybe not. Pretend play is an important part of your child's development.

But what is pretend play exactly, and how is it beneficial? Read on to learn all about when you should introduce this kind of play and the different ways you can create these opportunities for your kiddo.

What Is Pretend Play?

Pretend play, also referred to as dramatic play, is exactly what it sounds like. It's the opportunity for your kiddo to express themselves, engage in creative thinking, and put conflict resolution skills into play. (See what we did there.)

Some call it "using your imagination" or playing pretend. Others refer to it as imaginative play. However, regardless of what name you use, these activities involve your child acting out different scenarios to play or tell a story.

That said, it's important to note that this type of play isn't just about having fun. Pretend play helps strengthen and develop critical life and learning skills, like creative thinking, problem-solving, and conflict resolution. It also has social and emotional benefits.

What Are the Benefits of Pretend Play?

Pretend play is fun for kids, but it's also an essential part of your childs' education and development. Whether your child is engaging in pretend play on their own or with a group, the benefits are endless.

Expression and creative thinking

Pretend play allows your kids to express and act out different scenarios. These can be scenes they're recreating or new interactions altogether. Creating play scenarios with others highlights the importance of imagination. Not only will their imagination inspire the scene, but who knows how the ending will go.

Communication and self-regulation

When your child pretends to be an astronaut in a space station or plays school with their friends, communication and self-regulation naturally come into play. And, of course, whether it's frustration with the group or even with themselves, pretend play is a prime opportunity for your child to practice controlling their emotional reactions.

It's important to note that when we say "control" we don't mean suppress. There is a difference between your child silently fuming in the corner when they are upset and having a complete and total meltdown. The difference is being able to self-regulate.

Problem-solving and conflict resolution 

These skills can be practically applied, like in the previously mentioned scenario, or they can be used when creating pretend play scenes. Examples of this could be improvising and using alternatives when it comes to props or costumes. For example, if your child is slaying dragons, and they don't have access to a real sword (or likely even a play one), what can they do, create, or use instead to solve this problem?

Social and emotional development

Kids learn to take turns, share, and work together through play—and, particularly, their interactions with others. They also learn how to practice compassion and empathy. When kids play doctor, for example, they practice being kind. They also learn how to help others. Pretend play is a great way for your child to develop socially and emotionally.

Independence

While the social and emotional benefits of pretend play (and really, any type of play) are well known, did you know imaginative play fosters independence too? It's true. Because this type of play allows your child the freedom to use their imagination—and take risks—it will help them develop confidence, autonomy, and independence.

When Should You Start Encouraging Pretend Play With Your Child?

There is no time like the present to introduce pretend play. While there will be different activities depending on your child's age, this kind of play can be introduced as early as babyhood—and often continues all the way through elementary school. Pretend or imaginative play is beneficial to children of all ages, from 2 months to 12 years.

Examples of Pretend Play

No matter their age, there are opportunities to play pretend with even the youngest kiddos. From the Itsy-Bitsy Spider to playing pretend detective, imaginative play is fun and essential to incorporate into children's learning experiences.

Babies

If you have a baby or young child, you've probably already been practicing pretend play with them—even if you didn't know it. Talking to them or playing games like pat-a-cake puts words and motions together. Likewise, an all-time favorite, peek-a-boo, can light up their curiosity, and older babies can benefit from playing with stuffed animals, mirrors, push toys, and cars. They might be limited in the ways they communicate, but pretend play at this age is a crucial part of building those verbal and non-verbal communication skills.

Toddlers

Centers at daycare (or at home) allow your toddlers to explore the world through their senses. If they're curious about all their friends under the sea, pretend play could involve green streamers hanging down from their door frame to represent seaweed. Or maybe, you want to practice their color and shape recognition and have them create fictional fishy friends based on directions specifying different shapes and colors. Adding play areas to your home is anothrer great way to get their creative juices flowing. Hairbrushes and wooden spoons, for example, make great microphones and bedding can be used to make tents, or blanket forts.

Preschool to Elementary-Aged Children

The older your children get, the more developed their expression and creative thinking skills become. At this age, creating pretend play opportunities involves more complex storylines with multiple characters, which will present them with more challenges. Pretend play for preschool through elementary-aged children inspires their imagination. This type of play usually involves props, dolls, and/or action figures.

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