Even before your child learns how to walk, you might witness them grab your mobile phone and pretend that they’re talking to somebody, or use a spoon to stir something in an empty cup. These are the first hints of pretend play in children, and from there on it only gets more interesting, for you as well as for your child. After all, watching them pretend can be as entertaining as going to the theatre, and perhaps even more so, since you might find yourself laughing till your stomach hurts. And even though this may seem like another pastime activity for your child, pretend play is actually good for their mental and physical development. This type of unstructured play can provide your child with a whole range of cognitive benefits. Here are some of them.
It supports emotional development
Through imaginative or pretend play, a child unknowingly, yet actively, learns how to deal with their emotions. They assume different roles and pretend to be other people they know or characters they’ve encountered in picture books or stories you tell them, which gives them the opportunity to walk in someone else’s shoes for a while.
While children are still little it’s perfectly normal for them to be egocentric. And it’s actually logical, since children that young don’t understand that not all people feel, hear and see in exactly the same way as them. Children can also find it difficult to observe things from another person’s point of view. Therefore, it’s the change of perspective they get from pretend play that helps them develop empathy and better understanding of others’ feelings. For them, this kind of play is a way to experiment with their own feelings, both positive and negative, and learn how to respond well to another child’s or person’s ones. Also, the very possibility that they can assume different roles and pretend that they’re anybody or anything they want to be can build their self-esteem.
It enhances their communication and language skills
Whether a child plays with toys or their real or imaginary friends, pretend play can help them develop their communication and language skills. While impersonating you or anybody else they’ve encountered, you might be amazed by the phrases and words they come up with. For example, they might pretend they’re the waiter from the restaurant where you had dinner recently, their teacher or the doctor you took them to, meaning that they’ll copy what those people said and the way they said it, rather than what they’ve heard from you.
Pretend play shows children that they can use words to get different messages across to others and all the different ways they can use those words in order to be understood. It enriches their vocabulary and gives them the patience to listen to others, which can provide them with an academic advantage over their peers once they start school. In fact, if you want your children to acquire new language skills, it’s best to start early, while they’re younger. For instance, if you want them to learn English better, as their first or their second language, look for schools or early learning online courses where they can learn through play. These methods can build children’s vocabulary with nursery rhymes and story time, and guide them by using play-based pedagogy, which is the best way for them to learn.
It promotes social development
Another thing that pretend play can help your child with is their social development, as it allows them to practice different social roles and stage various life situations that they can then control and study the results of. This way they can realize their identity and all the ways they fit into the world they live in, but also the manners in which that world functions.
For a child to find playmates for pretend play isn’t unusual. When they do, it becomes cooperative play, which opens an entire variety of possibilities for your child’ social development to progress. It introduces them to the concept of taking turns and taking responsibility, as well as the importance of sharing. After all, when children play together, they have to negotiate in order to pick different roles and set rules for their game, which is how they learn about cooperation, collaboration and teamwork. Furthermore, playing with other children prepares the ground for building meaningful relationships in the future. Finally, some situations during their pretend play can teach them good manners and, in certain cases, how to be less aggressive.
It increases their problem-solving abilities
While perceiving pretend play as something pleasant and fun, children don’t realize that it regularly presents them with different sorts of problems they need to think through and solve. Simply deciding on which game they will play is already a problem they managed to solve. Add to this resolving all the dilemmas over who will assume which role, where they’ll play and what toys they’ll use, as well as setting the rules which will apply to their game, and they get to solve several problems before they even start playing.
By the game’s unstructured nature, it’s bound to take unexpected turns and perhaps even go wrong, putting the children in a situation where they have to think hard and work with each other to overcome the issues they’re faced with. This can improve the way your child thinks, which is something that can in many ways prepare them for the life ahead of them. Plus, once they solve a problem, children won’t have any difficulties when the same or a similar situation happens to them in down the road.
It encourages creativity and imagination
One of the most beautiful parts of pretend play is that it gives your child enough space to show their endless imagination and creativity and, although it sometimes may seem impossible to you, enhance it further. This happens when children immerse themselves in pretend play and put themselves in different play-related situations where they have to use their imagination and think creatively to keep the game going.
If they manage to hold on to these as they grow, it may give them the chance to have more interesting jobs and be a valuable asset to any employer. Plus, if they exercise their minds to be more creative and imaginative, they’ll learn how to think for themselves and make it much easer to perform most of the everyday tasks while they’re still little and once they’re older. And let’s not forget that the most creative and imaginative minds are responsible for some of the most interesting and the most useful inventions this world has seen.
It’s clear that early-childhood games can help your children grow into mentally and physically healthy people, which is why all parents and educators should make it their job to let children play as much and as long as they want, with that wonderful verve only they can muster.