Children love to dress up in costumes and play dramatic roles. They can choose anything; princess, driver, Cinderella, dinosaur… The moment they wear costumes, the whole world becomes another dimension. There is no limit to who, where or what they can be. Imaginative play is part of growing up every kid. The ability to pretend is very important to a child’s future success. To pretend, children must be able to recall the experiences they have had and then re-create them. They must be able to picture experiences in their minds. Children learn how to relate to other people as they play. Cooperation and conflict resolution are two skills that pretend play strengthens. As they interact with others in play, children improve their language and practice problem-solving skills.
When you encourage pretend play at home, you are stimulating your child’s intellectual and social development. As children play, the brain forms connections that will be needed for academic tasks. We know that children who have the skills that are developed in pretend play are more likely to be successful in school. At the same time, you will be developing rich memories of your child at play—memories that will last a lifetime.
A child needs to play to grow
An 18-month-old picks up a television remote, puts it to his ear, and says, ‘Ring! Ring!’ A 3-year-old says she wants some ice cream, so she opens an imaginary container, picks up some leaves and stuffs them into her fist, and mimes licking the ‘cone.’ A group of 6-year-olds engages in a mock battle on a playground, first by arguing about who gets to be the good guys, then by flailing sticks as though they were swords and dramatically falling over when they have been ‘injured.’ These episodes all provide examples of pretend play: one of the hallmarks of early childhood and a fascinating window into many aspects of development.
Pretending is one of the ways that the child can try to come to terms with something he’s afraid of. He may be afraid of monsters or ghosts and ask for the light to be left on at bedtime, but then play monsters the next day, or run around with a sheet over his head pretending to be a ghost! For young children, role-play is their way of coming to terms with their fears.
Whether she is play-acting familiar family scenes, such as driving the car like daddy, or imitating her mother’s actions, the young child is using her imagination, actions and language to think things through and to remember what happened in familiar situations. Because this activity is fun, she will become so engrossed that she is able to think and act it through from beginning to end. She will enjoy pretend play on her own, making animal noises when she plays with her farmyard animals, and also participating in “let’s pretend” games with other children, thus developing her social skills. Pretend play will help her to learn eye-hand coordination, spatial skills, counting, pre-math and pre-reading skills, while allowing her to safely express her emotions and feelings.
Children need the freedom and time to play
The young child is not able to organize complex thoughts, so when he dresses up and acts as a doctor he is organizing his thoughts and coming to understand the doctor’s role. Through such play roles, he is slowly beginning to think about what it would be like to be someone else, so that by the time he’s about four-and-a-half he has some understanding and awareness that other people have their thoughts and feelings. This is the beginning of empathy.
During the preschool years, children’s pretend play grows more complex. The focus of play expands beyond the familiar home to include experiences at school and around town. By offering collections of props, adults can encourage children to fully explore a variety of pretend play scenarios. One week may find the preschoolers immersed in farm play, while the next week finds them exploring a grocery store theme. Vocabulary and concept knowledge blossom as children discover each new topic.
Imaginative play can help children to:
- learn to socialize and communicate
- understand new experiences
- learn the language, and practice using it
- express their feelings
- be creative by making up their own stories, chants, and songs
- learn about cooperating and understanding from another person’s point of view
- gain confidence
- practice problem solving
- become familiar with the symbol systems of society such as letters and numbers.
Ideas for equipment:
- a selection of dress-up clothes and accessories for role-playing men and women of different cultures and occupations
- dolls, dolls’ clothing, beds and bedding
- table, chairs, kitchen utensils, and furniture
- a clothesline with pegs
- toy stoves, cash registers, toy petrol stations
- boxes and lengths of material
- child-height mirror – for safety reasons perspex mirrors are best
- familiar role-themed costumes, e.g. doctors’ coats, police uniforms, chef hats, and aprons
- props e.g. brooms, wands, plastic cups and saucers, pots and pans, doctor and nurse sets
- writing materials for children to use in their play, e.g. making menus for a restaurant, money for a shop, sign for a road, invitations to a party.
Imaginative Action Songs for Toddlers:
This is the Way (to the tune of Mulberry Bush)
This is the way the bunny hops,
The bunny hops, the bunny hops.
This is the way the bunny hops on a sunny springtime morning.
Butterfly flies, earthworm crawls, and bullfrog leaps
Way Up High in the Apple Tree
Way up high in the apple tree,
Five red apples I could see.
I SHOOK that tree as hard as I could!
Doooooown came an apple…
And ‘m-m-m-m’ was it good!
Count down to the last apple – 5, 4, 3, 2, 1
Ms. Polly Had a Dolly
Miss Polly had a dolly who was sick, sick, sick,
So she called for the doctor to come quick, quick, quick!
The doctor came in his coat and his cap,
And he knocked on the door with a rat-ta-tat-tat!
Hurry, Hurry, Drive the Firetruck
Hurry, hurry, drive the firetruck.
Hurry, hurry, drive the firetruck.
Hurry, hurry, drive the firetruck – ding, ding, ding, ding, ding!
Hurry, hurry, climb the ladder…
And don’t forget…
- The Itsy Bitsy Spider
- Old McDonald Had a Farm
- Row, Row, Row Your Boat
- The Wheels on the Bus
- Five Little Ducks
Play is not a luxury. Play is a necessity.
-Kay Redfield Jamiso-
Benefits of imaginative play:
Imaginative play connects children to their own home, family and community culture. While playing with peers, children also understand other cultures.
Playing kids build mental flexibility – an important executive function skill. Creative ability in adulthood is associated with the pretense of playing early childhood.
Through the game of pretending, children often use more words and more complex language structure than at any other time of their day!
Kids process strong feelings and powerful ideas through play by transforming themselves. Children who have ample opportunity to explore dramatic play are better equipped to express and feel.
Children learn to think in stories and communicate with peers. Kids make sense of their world through this repetitive game.
Summary and symbolism:
Thinking about an imaginative game is associated with a strong understanding of reading and the reasoning behind the situations that await it in life!
The child plans to perform multiple tasks, recalls, and prioritizes while engaging in complex play. This structured thinking will serve her well in elementary school and later in life.
Social navigation and flexibility:
As they join social games of pretense, children learn to be guided and followed appropriately and show increased capacity for empathy. They grow to understand the point of view of others.
Pretend play, Deena Skolnick Weisberg
Adventure and junk play, Aotūroa
Imaginative Play: Setting the Stage for Learning, editor: Marcy White, Jill Gunderman, editor
Family and dramatic play, Ngā Whakaari ā-whānau