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Pretend Play: Why is it Important to Children

Pretend Play: Why is it Important to Children

What is play? 

Play is a crucial milestone for development and wellbeing of all children. Play is any activity that is inherently motivated and chosen spontaneously by a child for enjoyment. Play develops in stages from birth, beginning with unoccupied play (0-3 months old), to cooperative play (typically between 4 - 5.5 years of age). Play could be throwing and catching a ball, building a fort or tower, dressing up as a prince or princess or catching bugs in the garden. 

What is pretend play? 

Pretend play, also known as make-believe play, imaginative play or creative play, is when children play as if something is real. Children engaging in pretend play try to create a situation that literally occurs, using gestures, props and language. Pretend play requires complex thinking as children must understand what is really happening in a situation so they can reenact it. Pretend play could look like playing shops, cooking, mums and dads, playing with trucks in a sandpit or mud or having a tea party.

When does pretend play emerge? 

Pretend play emerges anywhere from 11 months - 3 years (Karen Stagnitti, 2011). Toddlers will develop pretend play skills as they become aware of the function of every day objects. You may observe feeding toys with a spoon, vocalising an animal sound while playing with the animal, chatting on a phone (or an object similar to a phone). Pretend play will become more and more elaborate as children get older, with objects being used for multiple purposes or play scenes lasting longer durations. 

What are the benefits of pretend play? 

We all learn through means that motivate us. For children, play is motivating. Therefore, play allows children to learn a wide variety of necessary foundation skills for healthy brain development. Pretend play is beneficial for the following reasons; 

  • To develop creativity, imagination and problem solving
    Albert Einstein said "imagination is more important than knowledge”!. It is through imagination developed during childhood play, that we are able to imagine, invent, problem solve and create as adults. Pretend play provides ample opportunities for children to problem solve and show their creativity. This might be working out how to undress a doll for the first time? Who will be the doctor first if there is only one stethoscope in the doctors kit? What material will be used to create the fort?
    • To develop emotional regulation: when carers engage in play with children, they meet a child’s desire for connection and assist them in feeling loved. This positively supports emotion regulation. Through pretend play, children also develop empathy and an understanding of others feelings.
    • To support social skills
      During pretend play, children consistently rehearse social skills. They are encouraged to take turns, problem solve, collaborate and take responsibility.
    • To learn adult roles and develop confidence
      Pretend play allows children to explore and interact with the world around them. It helps to develop new competencies and increased resilience to face new challenges. Through “pretending” children can develop their self-esteem. 
    • Language skills
      Pretend play gives children the opportunity to be exposed to a whole new vocabulary such as “Princess”, “Crown”, “Castle”. During pretend play, children often narrate to re-enact stories or scenarios. Children often repeat phrases they have heard adults say during every day life. 

    What products does the OT Store have to support pretend play skills?

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