We all have fond memories of our time as children, pretending to be someone or something else when playing with friends. Play was free, relaxed, and enjoyable, but we were acquiring valuable skills during our pretend games. Research shows that young children who regularly engage in pretend play are often better in several learning areas such as; cognitive development, communication, negotiation, problem solving and creative thinking – all valuable skills for their future.
So, how does pretend play help children learn?
Children’s imaginations are amazingly flexible and entertaining, and pretend play is an important part of this. During pretend play children:
Learn about themselves and how they fit into the world around them. Children find what they can do or not do, what they do or do not like, during the imaginative games they create
- Work through scary or upsetting scenarios they may have encountered and been confused by, in real life. They may be trying to make sense of something beyond their comprehension and acting out roles helps to put everything into perspective for them, removing fears or doubts. It builds confidence and makes the event a “known” quantity for them.
- Develop social and language skills, and practice the ability to manage more complex thinking processes. When creating a game together, young children work through various skills such as imagining characters, deciding who will play each part, negotiating roles, and navigating an unfolding story line where several people share ideas.
This also often includes the creation of specific props to bring the story to life. A great deal of learning occurs during each step of such play. If children are encouraged to continue this kind of play, even on the next day, more complex thinking becomes involved and second and third level of thinking is used to continue the ideas or expand on previous play. This fosters concentration, the ability to follow through with thoughts and ideas and offers more practice at working with others to extend the scope and direction of the game.
- Enhance their social and intellectual competence through games and increasingly complicated story lines, (alone or with friends). When involved in group play, children are learning how to recognise social cues, acknowledge each person’s feelings and ideas, take turns at parts of the game, and to persist and extend thinking beyond an initial idea. These are all incredibly valuable life skills.
- Are provided with the opportunity to synthesise abstract concepts and knowledge, and make them real and understandable. Children are learning about how to merge what they know with what they can manage. Pretend play provides them with many occasions to practice this. They need many opportunities to practice this skill as it helps them blend reality with abstract ideas and make sense of it all.
In early childhood settings, such as Big Day Out Care & Education, we provide dress up clothing and accessories, kitchen and home corner play, creative work with many different materials (indoors and outdoors), and lots of loose play, open ended items for children to experiment with or combine in creative ways with other toys and equipment.
It is not uncommon for a whole world to be developed and lived in during a day in care. It is a very busy place and we can fit an awful lot into a day! We offer many opportunities for this kind of pretend or creative play and thinking, so children can become adept and flexible in their thinking processes, and practice the ability to gracefully self-manage the challenges they face each day.
This is fabulous practice for what they will experience in real life as they grow and learn. You can help your child practice thinking in creative ways too. Do you ever put on a mad hat or run around the garden being a horse or do something a little bit crazy from time to time with your child? Perhaps you would find it fun to take a cardboard box and make a car, or a castle to live in?
Get back in touch with your inner child
and enjoy some pretend play.
You may be surprised
at how much fun you will have!