Why Your Kids Love Pretend Play & Why It’s Important!
Dungeons and dragons, school, spaceship, house, and grocery store, are just a few examples of a pretend play scenario you might see on a playground. While some parents see these playground activities as a waste of time, nothing could be further from the truth. The benefits of pretend play are countless for children, from fostering emotional development and problem-solving skills to raising body awareness and aiding neurological development. Not to mention the core strength developed by playing spaceship on a wooden playset! That’s why Avenlur is dedicated to providing the best indoor and outdoor playgrounds to encourage pretend play. Long live the backyard pirates!
What is pretend play?
We all know that young children learn by seeing, imagining, and doing. Pretend play is a trademark behavior of young children. They portray other people that an object as something else or imaginary things that do exist. Often referred to as ‘dramatic play,’ it allows children to engage in creative thinking, express themselves, and flex their conflict-resolution muscles. These are all crucial life skills.
Why is pretend play important?
Through pretend play, children can:
1. Learn about themselves and the world around them
A child can develop a strong sense of their likes and dislikes, abilities, and interests through make-believe play. This activity allows them to experiment with role-playing to understand what they’re observing in their daily lives.
2. Solve scary, confusing, or new life situations.
If you’ve ever watched a child play doctor, this is a perfect example of them exploring a reasonably routine experience that can often be scary. You may notice your small doctor giving ‘shots’ to their patient or using a plastic stethoscope to listen to their hearts. Children learn to become comfortable with a doctor’s visit through this pretend play. They may also use pretend play to solve or feel a sense of control over a more personal issue, such as a family member who recently visited the hospital or is ill.
3. Nurture emotional development and social intelligence.
How humans interact with each other is crucial to our long-term happiness and success. Understanding how to read social cues, recognize and regulate our emotions, compromise, and participate in a long-term activity takes work. All of these social skills can be learned through pretend play. Make-believe play is crucial to the healthy social development of children.
What are the benefits of pretend play?
Using play to learn is now internationally recognized by practitioners as a necessary means of learning and development for young children. Many researchers and theorists have highlighted the benefits of pretend play as a crucial component of the normal development of a young child. Some of these benefits of make-believe play include the following:
1. It encourages a child’s creativity and imagination.
Young children use their imagination by engaging in pretend games or role-playing. They’re training their brain to think creatively and, at the same time, are developing their thinking skills. Make-believe play can foster a child’s creative ability.
The capacity of a child to use their imagination is a cognitive skill that adults use throughout their life. Adults must draw on their creativity to solve problems, create long-term plans, and discover or invent new things. The cognitive benefits of pretend play enable adults to enjoy life’s pleasures, such as captivating movies or riveting books.
That’s why it's critical to encourage children to learn how to play from a young age and provide them with regular opportunities.
2. It improves a child’s language and communication skills
Have you ever listened in on a conversation between a group of pre-schoolers? Often you can hear them using words or phrases you didn’t know they knew. They are fantastic impersonators of the adults in their lives, including parents, caregivers, teachers, and others.
One of the benefits of pretend play is that it allows children to experiment with and learn about the power of language, which is a critical component of brain development. Young people are like sponges, constantly absorbing information, including language. Kids quickly understand how different words affect others and how language enables them to re-enact situations.
Imaginative play provides an excellent opportunity to expose children to new words. The wider variety of scenarios they create, the greater their chance for language development.
For example, if your child spends the whole morning at the ‘hospital,’ they can learn all the words associated with this environment. This type of imaginative play can help flourish their language development. It also can reduce their anxiety if they visit a legitimate hospital or doctor’s office.
Imaginative play allows your child to choose their words carefully for others to understand them and what they’re trying to communicate.
Conversely, kids will learn to listen properly to what their friends say. They have to do this to respond accordingly and to understand what’s going on around them.
3. It fosters emotional and social development.
When a child participates in make-believe play, such as role-playing, they experiment with our society's emotional and social roles. Learning about who they are, how they fit into society, and what it's like to see this world from someone else’s perspective boosts their sense of independence.
The emotional benefits include developing empathy, cooperation, and responsibility. Yes, most preschoolers are inherently selfish, and this is normal. But the more they can engage in pretend play, the more kids understand how to respond positively toward other people.
Suppose you consider a role-playing situation involving a group of children. They must agree on a subject (i.e., pirates, dragons, and fairy castles) and then settle on the roles and rules. This requires collaboration, cooperation, and an understanding of the other participants.
The more frequently kids can participate in pretend play activities, the more empathetic they are with others because they’ve had the chance to play another role.
Make-believe play helps children develop self-awareness and self-esteem. Their sense of independence derives from the idea that you can be almost anything by simply imagining it. They can feel and express negative and positive feelings thanks to pretend play. They learn how to control the effects of these emotions, handle them positively, and harness their impulses. This is a safe way to test boundaries while building self-confidence. Together this fostering of self-esteem and self-awareness is critical in positive child development.
4. It enhances a child’s physical development.
Pretend play is a tremendous physical activity. It presents an excellent opportunity for children to develop their motor skills and body awareness while improving their lung function.
A child’s gross motor and balancing skills are tested as they swing from the monkey bars. They develop spatial awareness by scaling a triangle or flying down the slide in pursuit of the ‘bad guy” through the tent and into the forest.
Even in situations where traditional rough-housing might look too physical, researchers have discovered this activity has more than physical benefits. It can help the cognitive development of a child’s frontal lobe. This is the front part of the brain that regulates behavior.
A child’s fine motor skills, including changing into their ‘space suit’ or assembling plates of food for ‘dinner,’ are also honed with pretend play.
5. It develops learning, thinking, and problem-solving skills
In itself, imaginative play presents children with various scenarios to evaluate and problems to solve.
Determining what games to play, which scenarios to act out, who to include, what props are needed, and the ground rules for the game require a tremendous amount of thought and deliberation.
Imaginative play calls on a child’s thinking skills. It is these cognitive abilities that kids will find they’re using in almost all aspects of their everyday life. This will stay with them for the rest of their lives.
Memories develop through imaginative play. Using images and scenarios kids have created in their minds; they re-create past experiences during imaginative play.
This type of abstract thinking enables them to determine what has happened and act it out. Not only are they able to gather and manage their thoughts, but they use their problem-solving skills to find a solution to the scenario, whether it’s finding their lost ‘dog’ or determining the best way to land on the moon.
Best ways to encourage pretend play.
It’s one thing to allow your children to participate in pretend play. But how do you encourage it?
1. Allow children to take the lead.
The first rule for imaginative play is that there are no rules. When playing with kids, try not to guide them. If they request input or help, you can suggest ideas. Don’t take over their pretend play session. Let your child take the lead. Let them decide what character you’ll play and what props to use. This will give them a tremendous sense of accomplishment.
2. Have the props available.
A complete swing set, slide, and climber in your backyard are ideal for imaginative play. Sometimes, that's impossible due to a lack of space or constraints. A cardboard box can become a car, spaceship, pirate ship, or house.
Other props include a broom, a chair, a table, bed linens, or towels. Anything that will allow them to create and imagine.
3. Fill a basket with dress-up clothing.
Have you ever witnessed a pretend tea party in your home? Your children are dressed in your old work clothing, wearing high heels and a tiara you bought at the dollar store. They use their expansive imagination to create scenarios about who and where they are and their adventures. By giving a child a basket of simple dress-up clothing, including plastic wands, old Halloween costumes, or your old clothing, you're giving them the green light to become anyone they can imagine.
Additionally, if you, as a parent, decide to participate, your child will benefit. Research indicates that kids whose parents play with them have less anxiety and depression and are generally happier.
How can I choose suitable toys for pretend play?
Yes, cardboard boxes and old clothing can foster a child’s imagination. However, some of the best make-believe play toys are manufactured ones.
When selecting the most suitable pretend play toys for your child, consider the guidelines that the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) has established for all toys manufactured since 1995.
Any toy made of fabric must be flame retardant and labeled. Painted toys must be free of lead paint. Art materials should indicate they’re non-toxic. Crayons and paints should say ASTM D-4236.
At Avenlur, we take our safety measures a step further. Our slides, playgrounds, and gyms are stringently tested for safety and functionality according to ASTM and CPSIA (the Consumer Product Safety Information Act) standards. Our wooden playsets are constructed using sustainable New Zealand Pine. We use natural-based lacquers to prevent slivers, and all the plastic components of our toys are DCA-free (a compound that can negatively affect the function of a person’s kidneys and liver).
Other considerations include considering your child’s interests and using that as a compass to find your way to the right types and themes of pretend play toys for them.
Make sure you check the manufacturer’s age recommendations for the play set. This will help you determine whether the play food set you want to purchase will be appropriate and safe for your little one.
Consider the number of pieces and the size of the play set. Larger play sets have many parts and may require professional assembly. They may also occupy a tremendous amount of space in your home, and if that is an issue, then consider a foldable pretend play set.
Pretend Play and Avenlur
Dressing up, imagining with friends, and swinging from the monkey bars, there are as many reasons why kids like to pretend play as there are ways to do it. At Avenlur, we’re proud to provide the playsets children can use for their imaginative play. So before your child dons a pirate’s hat for their next adventure, contact Avenlur to ensure you have the best playset for the high seas.