If you’ve ever watched a child play, you might have noticed just how creative they can be. Give them any toy and you’ll be amazed at what they come up with. From a playground that’s actually a magic castle or a paper plane that’s the fastest plane in a race – their imaginations truly have no limits.
By pretending during play, kids can be anything or anyone they want to be and ‘travel’ wherever they choose. Pretend play is not only fun for both you and your children, but it can help them build and develop crucial language, social, emotional, intellectual and physical skills.
While the imaginative possibilities of pretend play are endless, if you’re unsure how or where to start encouraging pretend play, here are a few ideas to consider for every age.
Start simple at 12 and 18 months
While there is no hard or fast rule on when to start encouraging pretend play with your children, generally speaking, it starts to happen not long after the 12-month mark. At this age, it’s key to start simple.
Use a soft toy and ‘bring it to life’ by having it talk to your child or the other toys around them. You can also encourage them to engage in real-life scenarios, like talking on the phone or even enjoying pretend dinner parties. Simple activities like this are a great way to start pretend play as it’s easy to do, but also teaches your child about the world around them. As children are starting to learn the basics of language, this level of pretend play may help them develop their vocabulary and become confident in speaking.
At this age, they’ll need a little guidance so make sure you join in on all the fun.
Model social behaviour between 18 months and 3 years
While your child will initially want to pretend play either by themselves or just with you, eventually they’ll start playing with their siblings and other children. Pretend play is a great way to prepare them to be social, as well as help them make friends.
You can use pretend play to show your children how to behave around others by having a teddy bear’s picnic or tea party, or by role playing and showing them how to be friendly and take turns. Pretend play with a range of toy dolls can also help your children develop empathy, which is a crucial social skill. Plus, having a doll as a new friend encourages children to develop their own worlds, think of others, explore different perspectives, and can be a representation of themselves or the people around them.
Let them grow their interests between 3 and 5 years
As your child grows and socialises with other children, they’ll start to develop multiple interests, providing more possibilities for pretend play.
If your child likes playing with dolls, you can further encourage pretend play using accompanying playsets that can help them script a story. If they prefer playing with trucks, they’ll love driving some trucks and cars on a city or roads playmat, making up characters who have places to go. If they like building or demolishing things, you can encourage them with blocks or Lego sets so they can have fun pretending to be an architect.
Pretend play at this age with toys like dolls, trucks, and Lego sets can enhance your child’s fine motor skills and hand-eye coordination, as well as develop their problem-solving skills, planning skills, and patience.
Encourage costumes and scenarios at 5+ years
Now that your child is in school, they’re bound to start reading more and learning about a wide variety of fictional characters – perfect for encouraging dress-up play!
While your child’s school usually holds a Book Week every year for children to dress up as their favourite fictional characters, you can also encourage your children to do so at home through various costumes, or by using old clothes and materials lying around.
Dress-up pretend play can provide many benefits for your children:
- Enabling their creativity and imagination.
- Offering the opportunity to explore ideas about the world around them.
- Providing them with a safe place to express their emotions in a healthy way.
- Offering opportunities to increase their fitness (when they’re running around and playing outside).
Dress-up pretend play can be easily adapted as your children grow. When they’re younger they may just want to try things on, but as they get older, they can try making their own costumes and even coming up with multiple stories to go with them.
With these ideas, you can easily channel your inner child and spend valuable time with your children by helping them engage in pretend play. You’ll encourage them to develop language, social, emotional, intellectual, and physical skills that they can carry with them for life in a fun way that they’ll remember for years to come.
How to encourage pretend play and why it’s important is a feature post