While children need to be rooted in the real world, their imaginations need to be cultivated and allowed to flower. Through pretend play, children develop more active imaginations that can help them work through fears and problems, develop useful skills, and enjoy life. Pretend play is usually time well-spent. As a parent, you can encourage pretend play, observe it for clues to your child’s inner life, and gently guide and extend pretend play to make it more meaningful.
Pretend or dramatic play offers children an opportunity to produce, direct, and star in their own drama. In that drama, they can resolve issues as they see fit. Three-to-five year olds are not often in positions of power, but during pretend play, they can be the mommy telling the new baby to be quiet, the doctor giving the shot, or the preschool teacher doling out the cookies.
The roles of star and director will necessarily shift as children indulge in pretend play together. Most 3-to-5 year olds prefer to play together. This allows them to try on different roles in varying positions of power and to learn to cooperate and get along with each other. Since children talk, walk, and move creatively during pretend play, it can also advance language and motor skills.
As a parent, your major role in pretend play is as assistant director, encouraging pretend play and setting the stage.
You can extend pretend play by asking questions. For instance, if pretend play is taking place in imaginary supermarket, say, “I’ve decided to make an apple pie for my family. Can you show me how to buy apples, sugar, and cinnamon in your store?” If the setting is a circus, ask if there are any openings for a teddy bear and his dancing partner. If one child is obviously being excluded from a pretend day at the beach, you can provide him with a special digging tool that may help him be invited to join the fun.
Props can also extend pretend play. Simple props that can serve multiple functions are often the best. Pads can be used for taking restaurant orders, writing doctors’ prescriptions, or sending home notes from the teacher. Books can be used to play library, read to a baby brother, or hold a “secret recipe.” Adult clothes and accessories can help children step into powerful roles. How props are used is limited only by your child’s imagination.
As assistant director, you might even imagine your child one day saying, “I’d like to thank the Academy, but most of all I’d like to thank my parents for making this all possible.”
Last updated July 10, 2020