Well, I’ve always loved pretend play. As a little girl I spent endless hours playing school, house, beauty salon and any other game my friends and I could make up. My passion for pretend play soared though when I became a speech-language pathologist. I saw that there were very clear benefits to pretend play that cannot be matched by other therapeutic activities. If you want to give your child one gift related to his language development, give him the gift of pretend play. It will serve him well.
These are just SOME of the benefits:
- Pretend fits all sizes. A pretend play scheme can begin with a child JUST beginning to understand and use language with something like feeding a baby or giving it a sweet hug. That same pretend play scheme can be expanded to a child working on complex language structures to include things like “the baby isn’t quite ready for a nap because he hasn’t had lunch yet, and we weren’t able to make lunch because we need to go to the grocery store first, and after we get home from the store we can cook lunch, so that baby can take a nap.”
- Pretend is a story. The ability to tell a story or a narrative is the pinnacle of early language development. Good narrative skills actually combine most speech and language skills (articulation, grammar structure, vocabulary, organization of time, etc.) into one package. So THAT’S what we want our children to be able to do, BE STORYTELLERS. By encouraging, practicing, expanding on pretend play, we are readying our children to be excellent storytellers, because in order for our children to have stories to tell they have to have the pictures in their minds first. Those pictures will be what they describe to the listener as a story. So, when your child feeds the stuffed dog, walks it on a string that’s a “leash”, gets water for the dog because he’s thirsty, and then lays the dog down in a dog bed for a nap, your child is creating pictures of those actions in his mind that will be ready for a story some day. The more stories in your child’s brain, the more experiences he has to relate to when listening to and reading stories, and the more pictures he has on the ready to overlay language and to TELL stories. Pretend play sequences are our children’s little stories to tell and retell over and over!
- Pretend requires social skills. Engaging in pretend play requires you to think outside of yourself, imagine how a dog might be thirsty, or how a baby may be hungry. You are required to follow social rules and think of other’s feelings. If social skills can be a challenge for your child, your child may shy away from pretend play because it won’t come as naturally. But you can gently model and have fun with your child by teaching him pretend play schemes. Once children are exposed to pretend play, they often begin to catch on and realize they can feed the baby, and they can also feed the stuffed dog, and the stuffed alien. They begin to slowly engage in pretend play on their own. So get in there, and teach those play schemes if they aren’t coming naturally to your child.
- Pretend is magical! Pretend play allows you to go places, learn vocabulary, and practice things that you just can’t in real life! It’s fantasy! And while I always encourage parents to start pretend play with things that are concrete and happen in your child’s everyday life (ex: eating, sleeping, walking outside, checking the mail, etc.), when your child is ready, you can take your child to the moon. As a parent, you can really join your child in the wonder and magic of his imagination. Riding the pretend ride with your child will allow you to step back into the joys of childhood for yourself and connect with your child in a whole new way.
- Pretend is fun! Kids think it is HILARIOUS to see Mommy lay down on the floor pretending to be asleep, or pretend to be startled awake. They love to see parents having fun, acting out ideas, and being silly, so they are motivated to join in and learn something! THIS is what we are talking about here at Little Stories when we say let’s get to the work and fun of playing, because kids are doing work while they play and they have no idea how much they are learning!
BUT if you still aren’t convinced and you think your child would be better off reading a book, practicing vocabulary with flashcards, or working on SCLANS (gasp!), read this. To me this article is EVERYTHING that’s right about early education. They explain how your child can get to have great and long-lasting academic success, while playing their way there.
Do you engage in pretend play with your child? What’s your child’s favorite pretend play sequence? What has your child learned from pretend play?