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I listen to the hushed murmurs of my youngest daughter, Jemma. Her small hands move her toy people as they “talk” to each other.
The long hallway is a busy cardboard city. Currently, her attention is on the children in the school area. They’re busy rehearsing a play and festively attired in costumes of tape, paper, and paper cups.
Pretend play, where you don’t even play alongside your kids, is like a miracle drug for growing minds. Brain-boosting even.
What’s more, it’s easy to get your children pretending and playing for longer and longer periods of time. Especially during the summer months.
Before you expect your child to pretend play, you need to consider the environment.
I’ve learned that my kids require that the TV and tablets are out of sight. If not, they’ll be distracted and whining, not pretend playing. Your kids may be the same. Without these tech distractions, my children open themselves to creative pretending.
Another important factor is space. Outside or inside, we must let our children have spaces to play – where they are safe and free to move about. The hallway, a corner, the porch, the yard – almost anywhere will work.
Have you ever watched your kids pretending their fingers were people? Or using sticks and acorns to make a family?
Children’s needs for toys are minimal. In fact, the fewer options for toys, the more pretending is required.
Here’s what I mean . . . consider buying a premade school with pretend people versus giving your child a shoebox and some clothespins. The shoebox and clothespins require a child to stretch her imagination much more than the premade toy.
You also can provide real-life things that can be used as pretend play props, like an old telephone, a hat, or your old jewelry.
Put these pretend playthings in the play area you’ve set aside for your kids. Store in tubs or baskets for easy rotation.
Now that you have an area and some playthings, chances are your child won’t need too much help to start pretending. But he or she may need some quick ideas for playing longer or more complex scenarios when the play lags.
When you notice that the pretend play is lagging – or the murmurs of your child’s people are slowing down – suggest:
examples: something is lost, someone is lost, someone is being mean, someone gets hurt
examples: a boss, a naughty child, a heroic dog, a fancy lady
You may even want to read your kids’ books that relate to their pretend play because those will introduce new ideas to play and new vocabulary words.
Scientists can prove the benefits of pretend play. They are:
– a better vocabulary
– improved motor skills
– better social skills
– improved emotional maturity
– improved self-control
– better thinking and reasoning skills
So this summer, skip the workbooks. All your child needs is to pretend play every day.
Elkind, D. (2007) The Power of Play. Da Capo Press.
Strickland, E. (2004) Developing motor skills-dramatically! Scholastic Early Childhood Today, 19.3.9.
Bodrova, E., & Leong, D. (2005) Why Children Need Play. Scholastic Early Child Today 20, 1.6.