Young kids learn by imagining and doing. Have you ever watched your child pick up a block and pretend it is a zooming car? To you, a block is just a block but put it in your toddler's hands and it becomes anything from a sandwich to a cruise ship. The pretend play is not as simple as it may seem. The process of pretending builds skills in many essential developmental areas.
It’s been found that when young children use their imaginations in play, they’re more creative, perform better at school and develop a strong problem-solving approach to learning. This may not seem like a major developmental milestone, but the ability to think symbolically is essential to learning language and math.
Pretend play is a critical part of children’s development. When a child pretends to be a chef stirring the soup or an astronaut going to the moon, he's building many different skills, including:
- Language skills
- Social and emotional skills
- Problem-solving and thinking skills
Have you ever listened in as your child engages in imaginary play with his toys or friends? You will probably hear some words and phrases you never thought he knew! In fact, we often hear our own words reflected in the play of children. Kids can do a perfect imitation of mom, dad, and the teacher! Pretend play helps your child understand the power of language. In addition, by pretend playing with others, he learns that words give him the means to reenact a story or organize play. This process helps your child to make the connection between spoken and written language — a skill that will later help him learn to read.
Kids can expand their vocabulary and experiment freely with words in their own space and time, without the risk of embarrassment if they use the words incorrectly. By pretending to play with others, children begin to understand that words give them the power to re-enact a story and to organize play.
Social and Emotional Development
When your child engages in pretend (or dramatic) play, he is actively experimenting with the social roles of life. Through cooperative play, he learns how to take turns, share responsibility, and creatively problem-solve. Imaginative play has the greatest impact on the development of key skills that are important for children’s success with peers. When playing creatively with their friends, your child learns to co-operate and compromise.
It is normal for young children to see the world from their own egocentric point of view, but through maturation and cooperative play, your child will begin to understand the feelings of others. He also builds self-esteem when he discovers he can be anything just by pretending!
When your child pretends to be different characters, he has the experience of "walking in someone else's shoes," which helps teach the important moral development skill of empathy. Imaginative play allows your child to express both positive and negative feelings. It also helps him to work through difficult emotions and to understand them.
Children express themselves both verbally and non-verbally through imaginative play. They use all their muscles and senses to achieve this. Working with art materials like crayons, scissors, paintbrushes and play dough promotes fine motor skills and hand-eye coordination. To stimulate gross motor skills you can encourage percussion, dancing, mural painting or large construction projects like building tents.
Pretend play provides your child with a variety of problems to solve. Whether it's two children wanting to play the same role or searching for the just right material to make a roof for the playhouse, your child calls upon important cognitive thinking skills that he will use in every aspect of his life, now and forever.
Imaginative play fosters mental growth by creating opportunities for trying out new ideas, ways of thinking and problem-solving. In pretend play, children face a variety of problems to solve. Whether it’s two children who want to play the same role or looking for the right material to use for a doll’s bed, children will use important thinking skills that they’ll use through their lives.
Indulge your toddler's fantasy world and let her reap the benefits of her imagination.