Pretend play is a child’s rehearsal for life. It presents them with the opportunity to experience new activities without the pressure of getting it right first time.

While they are running around saving imaginary animals from imaginary danger, or checking the vital signs of soft toys with their plastic stethoscope, they are actually developing the skills necessary for healthy emotional growth.

For children, pretend play is easy. It’s a process as natural as learning to walk. However, as adults, we sometimes take their efforts for granted, often dismissing pretend play as a series of fanciful games.

Admittedly, for the most part, this is because we don’t know how to involve ourselves. Pretend play seems to be a secret that only children have the key to unlocking and, as parents, we find it difficult to join in with the same reckless abandon. Our children, though, are eager for us to participate and, because of this, it’s important we find a way of making pretend play fun for everyone.

Understanding the need for imaginative exploration

Pretend play is often a tricky concept for adults to grasp. Though we were all imagination-fuelled children once, the need for pretend play decreases dramatically as we get older. That being said, our imaginations are never abandoned completely and, in every decision we make, there is an element of pretense.

pretend play

Daydreaming is simply a refined version of pretend play. Despite the fact we may no longer need space and toys to solve problems or make decisions, we are still playing out future scenarios in our heads. We have much more creativity than we realise and we should use this creative spark to help our children discover theirs.

Whilst it’s easy to feel foolish, jumping around and describing things that aren’t really there, for a child, this is no different to the way adults tackle their own social and emotional issues. Our methods of hypothesising might not be as active, but they are certainly no less imaginative. Children use pretend play to understand the scenarios we deal with every day. However, for them, it is often the first time that they have experienced these scenarios. When a child asks you to join in their games, it’s because they’ve seen you handle it yourself and they are looking for guidance on what to do next.

Making pretend play work for all generations

Since adults can often feel uncomfortable or bored playing made up games, it’s important to find ways to introduce pretend play that are fun for all the family.

– The world is full of wonder for young children and the things we consider mundane can be a constant source of delight for them.

– From wearing a tablecloth as a cape to making forts out of old boxes, children’s minds begin to connect objects and language from a very early age.

– By turning chores into games, you offer a child the opportunity to get creative with you while encouraging them to use different props for symbolic thinking.

pretend play

One great way of doing this is to turn cleaning and tidying into a mission objective for your child. Rather than asking them to simply mop the kitchen floor, you could tell them that an evil curse has been placed upon it and you need them to help you get rid of it. While this may seem over dramatic to some, it is exactly the creative spark children need to enjoy cleaning the floor and it also gives you a reason to join their game.

Another creative way to transform household tasks into fantasies is to pretend they are commercials or scenes in a storybook. Children will jump at the opportunity to dress up and perform as their favourite characters, and this makes it easier for you to motivate them to do housework.

Of course, you needn’t keep pretend play so close to home. Outdoor play can be incredibly beneficial to a child’s development and helps them gain a greater understanding of the world. Use the walk to the shop or school as a chance to inspire them by turning the journey into a game or scavenger hunt. Once your children associate your time together with fun and laughter, they will be excited to do it again.

Whether you participate or not, children will always find the time to play. However, playing pretend together can help strengthen the bond between you and your child and encourage them to develop a strong, healthy imagination.

Although you may feel that pretend play is a waste of time in your own life, accepting it in your child’s is vital and anything you can do to support it should be considered a top priority.


Author Bio: Sam Flatman is an outdoor learning specialist and an Educational Consultant for Pentagon Play. Sam has been designing outdoor school play equipment for the past 10 years and has a passion for outdoor education. He believes that outdoor learning is an essential part of child development, which should be integrated into the school curriculum at every opportunity.

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