As your child zooms past you, he shouts, “I’m the fastest racecar driver there is!” On the surface, he’s just burning energy. But, pretending, or dramatic play, goes much deeper than that. When a child pretends, they are developing and strengthening skills that will go far beyond their preschool classroom. In fact, these skills will help them find success throughout their life!
When your daughter is pretending she’s at a rock concert, using makeshift drums around the house, she’s developing creative-thinking skills that will help her solve the complicated problems she’ll encounter. When your son has been outside all day playing “pirates” with the neighbor, he’s strengthening social skills such as cooperation, negotiation, turn-taking, and role-playing. When he’s cooking for his toys in the play room, he’s developing language skills and strengthening his vocabulary. Your daughter is developing essential social-emotional skills such as empathy for others, understanding social cues and responding appropriately, and the ability to regulate emotions.
In early childhood classrooms, teachers are provided with many resources and the knowledge to help foster this development. There are many ways you too can encourage and foster pretend play. Some ways include:
- Puppets or characters to help children recognize, verbalize, and regulate their emotions and feelings. This exposure and practice will help them learn how to cope with more difficult emotions with ease.
- Reading to them will help bring imaginative worlds to life. Children can become inspired by these readings and base play on them.
- Ask them open-ended questions and take their responses seriously. Questions such as, “What do you think about…?”, “Why do you think…?”, “What do you notice…?”, help your child think critically. Don’t overuse these questions, though. Too many questions will typically cause children to lose interest or get frustrated.
- Collect recyclable materials and other props for them to utilize. This can not only stress the importance of reusing and maximizing resources available, but it also helps them practice the ability to use and recognize objects symbolically. This prepares them for future problem-solving scenarios.
- Let them take lead of the play. Give children the control and confidence to plan and execute play from beginning to end. Known as self-efficacy, the early development of this trait will carry on to adulthood and your child will see themselves as someone who can accomplish anything!
- Set intentional time for your child to play and imagine!
This time of pretending is so essential to your child’s development and future! So, attend the rock concert, cheer on your racecar driver, and watch your pirate play—they are growing more than the eye can see!