Whats so great about pretend play anyway

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:

  1. 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.”
  2. 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!
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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?

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12 Responses
  1. Dawn Carter says:

    Thank goodness my husband excelled at ‘pretend play’. I became a student of the practice of ‘pretend’ by watching him with our children. We had very different childhoods. His was full of Daniel Boone fort building and wild outrageous adventures. Without a doubt, every session of pretend play is worth an entire year of books and flash cards. Great article.

    • Kim says:

      Dawn, I’ve found that many dads are the pretenders in the family. I think sometimes it can be hard for moms to stop “doing”, let go of inhibitions, and just play with no plan or direction. But, if they can let themselves go there, they can take their creativity to a whole new level.
      Kim recently posted..What’s So Great About Pretend Play Anyway?My Profile

  2. I’m so glad there are more people talking about the benefits of pretend play. I adore the picture at the top as well. Thanks for sharing!
    Joyce @Dinosaurs And Octopuses recently posted..I Spy Toy Collage HeartMy Profile

  3. Lacy Hicks says:

    Kim,
    I personally think this is your best post yet. I guess this one gets a little personal for me. My child is on the Autism Spectrum and as most know, this is said to affect their social skills, their ability to imagine and pretend. I will not say it has been easy but through repetitive pretend play, costumes, and props (often hand made) we were able to teach him pretend play and he uses it and has slowly but surely been growing his imagination. He is now, at 4 years old, able to pretend play with his friends at school without the help of a grown up having to prompt him. So yes, I have to admit sometimes teaching a child with special needs how to play can be challenging, however I will also be the first to say it is well worth it when you see those eyes shining and that smile go across your childs face as he roars as loud as he can with his friends because he was chosen to be the lion at the zoo. I may be a lil bias here, but I have to say he was the best lion I had ever seen. Thanks again Kim for your wonderful website!!

  4. Lacy Hicks says:

    Oh wow… that list is endless, but I will see what I can do. When we do pretend play now it includes both my 4 year old with autism and my typical developing two year old, my husband and myself. We all get involved and have a great time.

    Store -We did this one to help with several things, such as good behavior in a store, money, learning to pay for things before you take them, etc.

    Zoo – We did this one to help the little one learn animal sounds and we also acted out the book Goodnight Gorilla and 123 to the zoo.

    Dinosaurs – We did this one because it was fun, and acted out the book How do Dinosaurs Eat their food which teaches table manners.

    Barber Shop – We did this one for A LONG time because my oldest son had major sensory difficulties with the barber shop. Happy to say he now enjoys going to the barber.

    Doctor and Dentist – This helped each the fears of of visiting the doctor and dentist office.

    Firestation/ Police station – We got to play this one and be firefighters and police officers to help the oldest learn how and when to call 911 and the youngest to become familiar with who police and firefighters are and that they are safe people.

    Resturant – This one allows the boys be the chefs and waiters and daddy and I get to be fed. This one helps them learn how to act in a resturant, how to order food from a waiter, healthy food choices, it also works on some memory skills because we tell them what we want and they have to “cook” it and remember what it was and bring it to us.

    I could continue, but will stop there for now. If you are stuck feel free to post and I could help you come up with some more ideas. All of these are fun and help with so many different things including speech, social interactions, good behavior etc. Have fun teaching…oops I mean playing with your children.

  5. Kim says:

    That list is WONDERFUL! I love how you highlighted how you were targeting real life concepts, like practicing for the barber shop or doctor, in pretend play. I REALLY love how you highlighted acting out books. That is one of my favorite thing to do with kids! Great info, Lacy. Thank you.
    Kim recently posted..What’s So Great About Pretend Play Anyway?My Profile

  6. heather hemphill says:

    This article is great and I really needed it right about now. I am a SAHM and my DD wants to play the same thing all the time all day long. I know why it is important (bc I have an AS in ECE, BA in Child Study and K-6 Cert) but it is so important to hear it from someone else after you have been out of school a bit and being Grandma that has to drive her Grandaughter to the store or after being a dog in the woods for the 3000 time. LOL

    • Kim says:

      Heather, it sounds like your daughter is creating some pretty awesome stories! It’s great that you are right there with her letting her imagination take you both on a ride. Good work, mama! Your daughter may really enjoy acting out familiar stories from books as well. Stay tuned for my post later this week.
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