Between the ages of 3 and 6, most children discover a wonderful world inhabited by their own imagination. They often retreat into this world when they are bored and alone, but as they grow up many children play pretend games with their friends.
Pretend play is an important part of growing up, because it gives children an opportunity to develop
- Language skills. Next time you see your child engaged in pretend play, eavesdrop on what your child is saying. During pretend play, a child frequently uses words you did not know your child knew. While pretending, your child will try out words that they feel would match the context. Your child will often mimic you or their teachers perfectly, practicing words that they might not use elsewhere.
- Social skills. Whether playing alone or with their friends, most pretend play requires role play. It means your child practices how it is to act in social situations, both stressful and pleasant. When playing pretend games with friends, often children have to negotiate with each other, persuade each other and even argue to get the roles they want to play or take turns to talk or act. That way your child has to learn several social skills.
- Problem-solving/Thinking skills. Most pretend play involves problem-solving and your child uses their cognitive abilities to tackle their imagined problems. Whether it is trying to rescue their stuffed toy from the clutches of a craven zombie, or trying to cure their friend’s mysterious cough, or disciplining a naughty teddy who simply will not listen to their teacher, your child is forced to think and come up with creative solutions.
But what can you do to encourage pretend play when it comes to kids who would rather play on their cell phones and tablets or watch TV when they aren’t playing sports?
Here are five ideas you can try to encourage pretend play:
- Unstructured time. Make sure your child has enough leisure time in a day when they can actually experience a little bit of boredom. Often a child is forced to turn to their imagination when they don’t know what else they can do. Make sure your child has some time during the day when there are no electronic devices around to distract or divert your child.
- Provide the required inspiration. Whether it is the standard doctor set, a toy cash register, or an old cardboard box or plastic pipes, give your child access to materials that can spark his or her imagination.
- Do not judge your child during pretend play. Often your child might say ludicrous things during their game and you might feel like laughing out loud or correcting them. Restrain yourself. Your child takes their imaginary world very seriously and any form of judgment is likely to make them self-conscious.
- Give ideas. If your child and their friend cannot think of what to do next, give them a role and a mission. For example, give them a pair of spoons, lead them to the sandpit and pretend you are digging for dinosaur bones.
As your child unlocks their imagination, they will find a wonderful world waiting for them to explore. With the freedom they enjoy in this land of pretend, your child will learn more about their physical world but also about themselves.