Pretend Play - Why it's important to your child's learning

Many parents have asked over the years why children would be encouraged to engage in pretend play in the housekeeping, woodworking and block play areas in a  preschool classroom and/or infant/toddler setting. It’s important for your child to be ready for kindergarten and are questioning what early childhood professionals are thinking.  Pretend play for both boys and girls in the various areas of the room greatly contributes to their respective learning process and integrates their understanding of their life experiences.  

Pretend play is symbolic play that allows children to substitute objects at hand and pretend these objects are something else that they have seen at home, on television or in the community. Think of the brain at work here- your children is remembering, creating and then verbalizing what they are doing.  Here you have your child engaged in creative arts, problem solving with their cognitive abilities and communicating. In fact they are learning!!

Children must be able to make believe and create as well as suspend reality while playing and then return to reality when they are done and move to the next activity.  This is advanced thinking by your child and this is a skill your child will continue to need as they progress through their education.

Pretend play can be found in a variety of forms.  It can be make believe. It can be through exploration of objects or art materials.  It can be seen through the use of construction materials or with miniature buildings or models.  Children also experience it through dramatic play, socio-dramatic play, theme related play and story re-enactment. As children grow older they will create their own pretend play through their writing and creation of plays.  

Pretend play is not easy as it requires a great deal of mental activity and planning – it is not merely manipulating a toy.  It is creating a story or activity and communication with the toys and the children playing with them. Play is instrumental in the development of your child’s cognitive ability through the stimulation of abstract thinking.  Pretend play presents your child with opportunities for problem solving and finding a variety of solutions for the same problem. It allows children to gain information and discover relationships between objects. They learn new concepts through play.  It also increases their concentration skills while expanding imagination and creativity. It helps to develop capacity for flexibility. All skills they will need as they enter school. Pretend play is preparing your child’s thought processes.

Your child’s language development is greatly increased through pretend play.  Able to utilize new words in context of his play, they can practice using language correctly and verbalizing thoughts.  They can also practice responding on the spot to a classmate’s inquiry using new words and thoughts. Kindergarteners engaged in pretend play in their preschool experience have been found to be more verbal and more fluent in their language later in their educational experiences.   

Children’s affective domain is also stimulated through pretend play.  It allows a child to express his emotions and innermost feelings in a comfortable setting and allows him to gain self-confidence. He learns through play to show his pride in his creations.  He can also express his anxieties through play that might not otherwise been easily communicated by the child in a conversation with an adult. A child can gain a mastery of his feelings through reworking something that bothers them into a more positive experience – they can change the ending.  It helps them deal with some of the uncertainties they find in their daily lives.

Pretend play activities increase the child’s capacity for creativity in the aesthetic domain.  The child learns to plan and chose materials needed for a creation. She investigates different textures, shapes, weights and flexibility of materials.  She learns about whole and part relationships and what happened first, middle and last in a creation. Music and rhythm also allow the child to learn about concepts of patterns and repeated phrases.  The child learns more about their world through special creations, whether artistically or musically.

The physical or motor domain of the child is also enhanced through the pretend play.  As a child plays dress-up he is learning to manipulate fasteners such as buttons and zippers which help to develop the pincer grasp needed by the child to write.  It also helps the child develop eye–hand coordination in an active environment.

The last domain of the child that is greatly affected through pretend play is the social domain.  It gives the child a wonderful developmentally appropriate way to learn the concept of friendships, interpersonal strategies, problem solving, moral judgment and communication skills need in social situations.  A child learns how to negotiate on a spontaneous basis as he interacts with another child. A child can also learn leadership skills through her play and can learn she is able to direct the direction of the play.  Learning she can be involved in decision making with friends is an important life lesson.