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What benefits does pretend play have for my kids?

You’ve probably heard your kids chatting with imaginary friends or acting out real-life scenarios with toys. You may even remember doing this yourself when you were a child. Beyond just a typical childhood pastime, imaginary play can actually help with a child’s development. We crowdsourced seasoned parents and childcare/child development professionals to get their opinions on why and how this type of play helps kids.

Elisa Pupko

Elisa Pupko

Elisa Pupko, Founder and CEO of Treasure Trunk Theatre, a young children's enrichment program focused on using imagination and creative play to connect children with the world around them.

Problem-solving and collaboration skills

Pretend play’s greatest benefit is teaching young children empathy. While acting out different roles during their play, they are putting themselves in different characters’ shoes, expressing thoughts and feelings as those characters, and gaining an understanding of each characters’ perspective. Seeing the world from the viewpoint of others sews the seeds for empathetic humans.

One of the greatest benefits is the ability to learn problem-solving and collaboration skills. During pretend play children create scenarios in a safe environment where they must problem solve and come up with a solution. And when playing with other children, they learn the art of collaboration and sharing of ideas to work together in solving the problem, which also improves language and communication skills.

Dr. Amy Nasamran

Dr. Amy Nasamran

Dr. Amy Nasamran is a licensed child psychologist and researcher at Michigan State University with a PhD in school psychology. She founded Atlas Psychology, a counseling practice for young children and young adults.

Top 3 Benefits of Pretend Play for Kids:

1. Improved cooperation - parents who spend 5-10 minutes a day engaging in pretend play with their children see a drastic improvement in their child's behavior and cooperation. This is because playing with kids in an activity they choose, even for just a few minutes a day, establishes a secure relationship with your child and builds a solid relationship foundation for cooperation and compliance to build off of. In other words, when your child feels good about themselves and in their relationship with you, they're more likely to listen and do what you ask.

2. Improved social skills and emotional intelligence - kids don't learn to share and take turns simply by being told to. Pretend play is the perfect arena for children to learn how to share toys and take turns with others in real-time. Pretend play also involves the use of different characters, so children have many opportunities to learn and build their perspective-taking skills too.

3. Improved language development - young children are learning the language at a rapid rate. Kids who engage in pretend play can learn new words and expand on their language by playing out different scenarios. In my work with parents of young children, I coach parents on how to teach new words and vocabulary to their children by expanding on things their child says in the play. For example, if your child says, "My plane is flying," you could add, "Your plane is flying to the airport!" to teach new words and concepts.

The bottom line: pretend play has many benefits, with the top three being improved cooperation at home, social skills and emotional intelligence, and language development.

Paula Mclaren

Paula Mclaren

Paula Mclaren is the founder of Teething to Tantrums and has been in the childcare industry as a Norland Nanny since 1982. Since then, her mission has been to help parents become the best they can be and to teach them about the trials and joys of parenting.

Develop cognitive and social skills

Pretend play is wonderful for young children. It boosts their creativity, develops language skills, develops imagination, helps with problem-solving, and can help with emotional and social development.

When children role-play, they can safely explore emotions and act out imaginary or scary situations. They can be anyone they want to be— the opportunities are endless. By becoming characters, children can explore and work out any thoughts and feelings they may be trying to process.

Through pretend play, children can safely act out situations they are, as yet, not old enough to carry out in the real world and in doing so, they develop problem-solving and new skills that will help them as they grow. For example, playing shop or cooking in a pretend kitchen allows children to explore the world of math and science and develop cognitive and social skills.

Another great pretend play activity that children love is building a blanket den. Even very young children will love to be in their den with their teddy bears and have an imaginary tea party. Having a dressing-up box is also a great way to encourage pretend play and, of course, never forget that you can inspire pretend play by reading books and encouraging your little one to take part by making animal noises and asking them what they think might happen next.

The world of pretend is pivotal to a child’s development as it is the epitome of what is meant by learning through play. As parents, we should offer and allow our children the time and space to play pretend as often as we can.

Melanie Musson

Melanie Musson

Melanie Musson is an insurance expert with She has five delightful children, ages 10 and under.

Cultivates active imagination

Pretend play cultivates an active imagination in my kids. Eavesdropping on their play is one of my favorite things. Their storylines are adventurous, silly, and sometimes even ridiculous, but their stories give me insight into how their minds work.

The more they participate in pretend play, the easier it is for them to do it and develop new scenarios. They learn about relationships through pretend play. When they’re acting out a different role, they start to realize what’s involved in being that person. They understand more about what other people do. As a result, they’re more empathetic and observant of others.

Pretend play opens opportunities for conversation. Even my shyest children can communicate when they’re pretending because it gives them an avenue of communication outside of their timid shell.

Pretend play opens up ideas and a new world. For example, they often have questions about what their characters would do for a job. Then I have an opportunity to lead them in studying that occupation.

Cynthia Dow

Cynthia Dow

Cynthia Dow is the Director of Child Care Advancement at TOOTRiS helping parents find quality childcare by making it convenient, affordable, and on-demand. She has her MEd in Curriculum and Instruction with an emphasis in Early Childhood Education and has been in the early education field for 9 years.

Enhancing various essential skills:

Pretend play can often be underestimated when it comes to a child’s development, but it can help your child in so many ways. In pretend play a child is using their imagination to make real or invisible objects, along with the environment around them, come to life. You probably have witnessed your child do something similar to these examples: they pick up a stick and pretend it is an airplane flying to grandma’s house in another state, or they use their blanket as a superhero cape to help set the table for dinner. This fantasy play can be tons of fun and appear effortless for a child, but their pretend play is enhancing various essential skills the more they engage in it. Here are some vital skills that are being used during pretend play:

Language skills

In pretend play children are receiving great practice talking and building their vocabulary. When a child is engaging in pretend play with their peers or adults, they are being introduced to new words, learning how to structure phrases and organize their language. Sometimes you may hear your child use words or phrases you use frequently in their pretend play. Your child is learning from you and utilizing your vocabulary as well.

Social and emotional skills

When your child is involved in pretend play, they are actively learning how to socialize and understand the feelings of others. They are learning to take turns with objects and roles involved in the play, and they are developing friendships and creating stronger bonds with peers. When they are pretending to be a character, they take on a different perspective. An example of this is if they are pretending to play a doctor, they put themselves in a doctor’s shoes and play a role of a caring, patient, and brave individual. Helping them develop empathy and a sense of what others are feeling.

Problem-solving skills

Pretend play brings about a variety of situations to consider for a child, and if they are playing with others, they have to learn to consider the opinions and needs of the other people involved in the play (such as deciding what roles to play, materials needed, what to do, and how to overcome conflict in a pretend situation—like what to do if Lily has to help her friends take care of 5 crying babies in the pretend nursery). These problem-solving skills will progressively get stronger and carry on with them into real-life situations into adulthood.

Physical development

Not only can pretend play develop useful cognitive skills, but it can also help with physical development. When children pretend to be firefighters and have to run to save the burning building, they get in some physical activity. Or if they are putting band-aids on a baby that fell and scraped her knee, they are working on their fine motor skills by peeling and placing the band-aid on the baby.

Here are some tips and ideas for encouraging pretend play at home:
  • Create stories with your child. Ask them for character ideas, what the story should be about, what should happen next, and then act it out.
  • Provide dolls, puppets, stuffed animals, or other toys for your child to engage in pretend play with. They do not have to be store-bought. You could have your child cut out characters from paper or use anything you have around the house. Remember, children are creative and can work with whatever you have.
  • Set up a doctor's office, grocery store, or restaurant. Have your child assist with gathering materials, making props from recycled materials, then have fun pretending and taking turns with different roles.

The younger and more frequently a child can participate in pretend play the more advancements you will see in their skills as they grow. Also, providing plenty of opportunities to engage in pretend play will allow a child to discover their likes, dislikes, and the endless possibilities of what they can do, shaping them to have strong self-esteem and giving them the courage to pursue their goals. Pretend play has so many benefits, and it is an activity that, as a parent, you should make time for regularly to ensure your child is getting the quality pretend playtime that they need for their optimal development.

Sarah Miller

Sarah Miller

Sarah Miller is a home school mom of two and an educator with over a decade of experience teaching kids in preschool through high school. She helps homeschool parents get started homeschooling with confidence at where she shares tips and tricks to make homeschooling simple and fun.

Helps develop emotional skills

One of the biggest benefits of pretend play is that it helps kids develop emotional skills. Kids can act out real-life scenarios to help them explore the emotions they are feeling. Kids might practice putting a doll or stuffed animal down for a nap and then waking them up as a way to process separation from their parents while they are sleeping. A set of pretend doctor tools can allow kids to role-play the experience of going to the doctor so they will know what to expect when that time comes.

Pretend play is a great way for kids to develop social skills, too. Kids who are playing together learn how to share and take turns through play. Kids can practice communicating with a friend as they include that friend in their story. Kids can also practice communication by creating dialogue for their toys in a pretend story. A scene where stuffed animals are talking to each other is a great way for kids to explore new words and phrases they have heard from their parents or teachers.

Another benefit of pretend play is that it helps kids develop language skills. As kids create pretend stories, they are learning how to understand a story and its parts. This helps with reading comprehension and storytelling skills, which are important for literacy.

Pretend play is an important way that kids learn to solve problems. Kids will need to figure out how to tell their story using the toys they have available. Social situations can create even more problems to solve. Kids who are figuring out how to include a friend and their ideas into the pretend story are learning important problem-solving skills.

It is critical to give kids plenty of free time for pretend play. Parents can also encourage pretend play by making sure that kids have access to open-ended toys that can be played within a number of different ways. Blocks are a great example because they can be used to build anything that kids can imagine. When kids have access to plenty of open-ended toys and lots of free time they will learn to enjoy pretend play.

Tabea Gittens

Tabea Gittens is a trained medical professional and mother to two active little kids. She is passionate about pregnancy, birth, babies, and motherhood. She is a writer at MyMommyHeart and helps fellow moms with tips and advice on their journey of motherhood.

Benefits of pretend play

Children love to play and pretend different realities. Pretend play is not only fun for them, but it is important and helps to develop various social skills.

Regardless of whether my kids use pretend play with me or one or more other children, or even with dolls, stuffed animals, or play figures for different roles, they can learn a lot in the process.

My kids learn to:
  • understand foreign points of view
  • develop empathy towards other people
  • put feelings into perspective
  • become aware of potential fears
  • deal with adult behavior
  • practice recognizing and solving small social conflicts
  • insert themselves into a group
  • comply with rules
  • introduce ideas
  • establish contacts
  • take responsibility
  • express wishes and needs
  • become tolerant
  • show consideration for others

Other natural benefits of pretend play are improved language and planning skills and the development of general intelligence and encouragement of imagination and creativity.

My children’s pretend play can also benefit me as their mother. If I observe closely, I can learn a lot about how my children experience their environment. Since kids stage and process exciting experiences and problems in pretend play, it can sometimes be quite eye-opening about what concerns them. With pretend play, I often get the undisguised version that couldn't be put in words.

If my child as an "adult" in pretend play scolds the baby doll with harsh words, it is not difficult to guess who she is imitating at that moment. This is, perhaps, a reason to rethink my reaction in certain situations, which again will benefit my kids in the end.

This is a crowdsourced article. Contributors are not necessarily affiliated with this website and their statements do not necessarily reflect the opinion of this website, other people, businesses, or other contributors.

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