Pretend Play - Ideas, Benefits & Activities for Kids

Pretend Play & Its Importance in Child Development

If your child has been acting like Red Robin Hood or Pasta The Baby Cat and adventuring in the living room, fret not, it’s his imagination going wild. Children with vivid imaginations explore the world around them by creating make-believe situations and crafting fantasy play. Here’s everything you need to know about pretend play (or symbolic play) and more.

Video: Importance of Pretend Play in Child Development

What is Pretend Play? 

Pretend play is simply ‘make-believe’ or role play for preschoolers. It’s when your child reinvents the wheel and behaves like his favourite fantasy character. The character can be from a cartoon, film, or even be an imaginary one. For example, your child may talk to an imaginary friend and think he’s being comforted by him whenever he feels down. This lets him learn coping strategies, builds resilience and confidence to tackle any of life’s future challenges.

Typically, children between the ages of 12 to 24 months start enacting fantasy roleplays and by the time they turn three years old, their imaginary details and action sequences in everyday scenarios get even more elaborate.

Types of Imaginative Play

There are primarily two types of pretend play. They are-

1. Fantasy Play

Fantasy Play starts at the age of two. The main characteristic of a fantasy player is that your child doesn’t always act like the character and sometimes explains it to you through constant verbalization.

2. Sociodramatic Play

Once your child sets up his fantasy guidelines and characters, he fully immerses himself in the story and doesn’t emerge from it. His storylines flesh out more elaborately, and he behaves just like his character in every possible situation, including in his interactions with others.

Benefits of Pretend Play

Pretend play isn’t only a fun activity but rather something that fosters learning skills and cognitive development. Here are the top ten benefits of pretend play for children-

1. Social and Emotional Development

The need for pretend play in child development is imperative since your child interacts with other kids, learns to engage in cooperative plays by taking turns and giving others chances. This fosters emotional development as your child learns how to share his game and also enhances social skills which include teamwork and cooperation.

2. Planning and Organization

From fleshing out characters and setting up the environments and storylines, role-play activities for preschoolers teach how to problem-solve and engage in creative thinking at the same time. Kids use their thinking prowess to bring their fantasy worlds to life by organizing toys in specific ways and sequences.

3. Gives a Sense of Independence

Children who engage in pretend play learn to live in their own worlds, ones that are separated from their parents’, thus keeping themselves busy and entertained. This lets them spend time with themselves and learn more about their own unique identities, likes and dislikes, and much more.

4. Improves Storytelling Skills

Pretend plays stimulate children’s imaginations and sharpen their creative skills as well. When your child engages in creative play, he learns the basics of storytelling by acting out as characters and learns how to creatively express himself with proficiency. This, later on, translates to other career skills and kids may grow up to become designers, visual artists or even authors as they continue to get good at it.

5. Creates Life Skills

Pretend play goes beyond the boundaries of pure imagination and embraces reality by branching out from its settings. Whenever your child pretends to be a chef or a doctor, he learns how to set tables, how to be gentle and how to take care of others, including himself. Basic cooking and cleaning concepts are imbued with cooking fantasy plays while empathy and emotional intelligence are fostered during more complex plays such as pretending to be a doctor/nurse.

Child pretending to be doctor

6. Imbues Leadership Qualities

Whenever you see other kids following your child or hearing him out, you know that there’s a leader that’s shaping on the inside. Pretend plays teach kids how to make choices, be decisive and lead others. For the rest of the kids, they learn how to be better followers. These skills carry forward to future careers and opportunities in life.

7. Mastering Social Norms

From learning how to react when there’s a fire to how to behave inside a restaurant, pretend play activities for toddlers teach kids how to interact with peers in social settings and the basics of public behaviour and etiquette. This lowers their anxiety whenever the face the real-life equivalent of these situations and creating creative plays with pretend-plays prevents developmental delays too.

8. Increases Creativity

Whenever your child dons the chef’s hat, tries to make new dishes, or builds exciting worlds out of cardboard, coloured blocks, and boxes, you can rest assured that he’s developing his creativity. Although adults may see these as everyday objects, kids always find creative ways of using ordinary things for executing extraordinary situations.

9. Language Development

When your kid tries to verbally express and describe his creative plots, characters or storylines or even act as a narrator while enacting his pretend-plays, he is working on building his vocabulary and language skills. By using descriptive words and playing with siblings and friends, they enhance their social communication skills as well as learn how to listen mindfully and pay attention.

10. Makes Kids Smarter

From learning how things work in the real world to developing a sense of how to act in the right and wrong situations, pretend-play prepares your kids for the real world by simulating real-life scenarios. It’s fun, it’s fast, and it’s sure a lot of creativity in the house!

How to Encourage Imaginative Play in a Child

You can encourage imaginative play in a child by thinking and acting just like a child yourself! Here’s how.

Observe His Interests – What sort of pretend play makes your child curious and motivated? Is it playing doctor or chef or playing all alone with toy trucks. Whatever he likes, sit across him face-to-face and mimic what he does to have a fun time. It doesn’t matter whether or not you’re making any sense verbally as long as you’re having fun!

Repeat Actions – If you’re introducing new pretend-play ideas or actions in your game, make sure you repeat them often so that your child masters it. Children love learning new things through repetition!

Do Not Bring Many Toys – It’s best to start off simple and sweet. Just pick a few toys and slowly work your way through them. For example, if your child is used to playing with a dumpster truck, you can add a few blocks for dumping off and slowly add objects and tracks to create an obstacle course.

Start Off – If your child is new to pretend play and isn’t sure what to do, take the lead by starting off and showing him how. For example, you may take a sippy cup and pretend that you’re enjoying a beverage from it or take a toy car and say ‘Zoom! Zoom!’ and show him how to make it zip away across the floor.

What Should You Not Worry About

Your child may do things like hitting an object with their wand or setting up a dinosaur army below the dinner table. You shouldn’t worry about these things whenever they end up doing them because it’s a part of pretend play. Your child doesn’t know the difference between imagination and reality at this age which is why we encourage you to not be too restrictive but rather encourage them to explore and have fun. Pretend play improves their social and emotional skills which is a necessity for their growth and development in the coming years.

If there’s anything they do that hurts or harms others in the family, you can always say ‘no’ and ask them to do something else instead of that particular action. Be flexible and use your instincts to decide what’s permissible and not in the house, basically.

Different Dramatic Play Ideas & Activities for Kids

Here are a couple of different preschool dramatic play ideas and activities for kids. Here’s everything you need to get started.

  • Restaurant Play

    Buy a chef’s set for your little one and pretend-play baking cookies and selling your favourite handmade goodies. Your kids will love it!

  • The Hospital Game

    Get one of those first-aid kits for kids and doctor sets and start diagnostics with stethoscopes and your creative imagination. Kids love to be called “doctor” and nothing brings smiles on their faces than good old-fashioned hospital fun!

  • Airport Fiasco

    Get a few tables and dummy PCs with boxes, crates, and some curtains to create an airport-like environment. Ask your kids to partner with their friends and run a checklist of who is entering the airport and reenact everything you see normally from the ticket counter to the flight department.

  • Dinosaur Times 

    A try of sand, a couple of dummy fossils, shovels and scoops and a little imagination goes a long way in transporting your kid to the ancient times. This one keeps the little one busy for hours on end!

Pretend-play games are a surefire way to make your kids smarter and creative. They learn, have fun, and you enjoy watching them achieve key milestones. What more can a parent ask? Try out these ideas today, and we’re sure you won’t regret it.

Also Read: Listening Activities for Kids

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