In this day of technology where young children are continually spending more and more hours each week in front of the TV, smart phone, or tablet, the amount of time actually playing is being jeopardized. As parents, it is crucial that we encourage our children to engage in imaginative play. Read on to learn about the benefits of pretend play and how you can incorporate more of it into your child’s life.
Benefits of Pretend Play
Pretend play is when a child uses his or her imagination to create scenarios involving multiple perspectives, either with themselves, other children, or toys. Various research studies on the benefits of pretend play have shown that it is a crucial aspect of childhood development. Some of the long-term benefits include:
- Encourages Creativity
- Expands Social Skills
- Allows for Self-Expression
- Enhances cognitive flexibility
- Increases language skills
- Teaches problem solving/conflict resolution
Dr. Sandra Russ, a Clinical Child Psychologist, has dedicated her career to studying pretend play and how it is involved in child development and psychotherapy. She has spent many years observing children in play therapy and has found that “in normal populations, the ability to play, use imagination, and express emotion is related to creativity, emotional regulation, coping and thinking of things to do in stressful situations and for the most part we find that this is independent of IQ.” (https://www.case.edu/autism/research/russ.html)
Whether playing alone with baby dolls or engaging with friends in a make-believe adventure, pretend play allows a child to experiment with expressing different emotions, seeing things from another’s perspective, and using their creativity. Through pretend play, children are given the opportunity to safely express themselves and explore their hopes and dreams.
Encouraging Pretend Play with Your Child
Offer a variety of Traditional Toys
According to psychologist, Susan Linn (author of The Case for Make Believe: Saving Play In a Commercialized World), when it comes to buying toys for your child a good toy to encourage creative play is 90% about what the child does with the toy and only 10% about the actual toy. So, think of things without all of those electronic bells and whistles.
One great way to introduce pretend play to little ones is through baby dolls and accessories. Yes, even little boys can enjoy playing with dolls! It is fun for kids to pretend to feed and burp and change diapers – all things they know that you did with them. We are huge fans of the Corolle baby doll line that features traditional soft-bodied baby dolls with eyes that open and close, along with realistic, well-made accessories like strollers and diaper bags.
Another great toy option are static figurines, like plastic dinosaurs, and colorful wooden blocks! The combination of those toys can provide hours of play for a child with a good imagination.
Play with Them
You can be a catalyst in teaching your young child how to engage in pretend play by encouraging their imaginations to run wild. Take some time out and get down and play with them! Pretend you are pirates on a hunt for lost treasure and your couch is the ship. Or, take them on a search for a rare animal through the jungle of your house. Not only are they reaping the benefits of using their imagination, but you are creating memories for them that will last a lifetime.
Set up playdates with children their age
There is nothing quite like witnessing the elaborate games that two 4-year-olds come up with when put in a quiet room together. Children’s imaginations can really run wild and play off each other as early as age three. Not only do playdates give you a break, but it allows your child to expand their social skills by interacting with someone who is literally on their same level.
Encourage Solo Play
Solo play is just as important to your child’s development as social play. Dedicate periods during their day to “quiet time” where your child has the freedom to play with their toys, books, and games at their own free will without any distractions. At first they may think this is boring because no one is playing with them, but over time they will learn to use their imaginations to make their toys come to life. Sometimes giving a prompt helps. For example, if your daughter is bored, set up a scenario for her: tell her that her baby doll is really sick and she should take her to the doctor and then give her some medicine and make sure she goes down for a nice, long nap. Sometimes that is all it takes to get them excited to just play.
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Kaufmen, Scott Barry. “The Need for Pretend Play In Childhood Development.” Psychology Today, 6 March 2012.
Hellmich, Nancy. “Is make-believe vital to kids? You better believe it.” USA Today, 26 June 2008.
“Interview with Dr. Sandra Russ.” Case Western Reserve University.