From about the age of 18 months your child will begin to develop the ability to play pretend games, copying things they have seen adults do like talking on the phone, putting on their shoes using keys etc. This is a very fascinating time as a parent as you see your child begin to ‘act out’ preparing to be a ‘grown up’.
Why is ‘pretend play’ such an important part of a child’s development? To quote (Lindsey & Colwell 2013) there are two types of pretend play, fantasy play and socio-dramatic play.
Fantasy play normally starts at around 2 years of age and most played during preschool years when children start to interact with other children of the same age and come into contact with more toys and other items which can be utilized in play. Up to almost 20% of all preschool children’s behaviour can be described as fantasy play. This can easily be recognized because of the child’s constant verbalization continually explaining what they are doing and constantly slipping in and out of character.
During socio-dramatic play the child become totaled immersed in the story and continues to ‘act out’ in character once the storylines are decided upon. It is unusual that they will come out of character to state that they are in ‘pretend’ mode but prefer to continue with the storyline that they have seen and become immersed in, perhaps at the cinema or on TV, for example Frozen, Willy Wonka, or Superman etc.
Both fantasy play and socio-dramatic play are important in a child’s development.
Pretend stories involving others develops social skills as the child needs to think about the others’ thoughts and feeling in order to develop the storyline. This means that they need the ability to empathize with others and consider others feelings. When a child invites a friend to take part in their game and play ‘let’s pretend’ they are beginning to form friendships and sustain relationships with their peers. Pretending to be a different character enables a child to look at a situation from another person’s point of view as well as the ability to understand a concept and retain a train of thought. As the imaginary storyline develops they are able to use reasoning and use their imagination to express alternative emotions.
In socio-dramatic play the child acts out imaginary dramatic situations and they develop the ability to adapt their emotional reactions in accordance with what is acceptable or what is expected within the storyline. These regulatory skills allow the development of positive emotional expressiveness leading to more positive emotions. Instant reactions are allowed within this framework as well as the ability to delay spontaneous reactions as required. Some pretend play stories involve very emotional play acting, for example if someone in the play is in danger, and children learn to regulate their emotions in these situations which have other additional benefits.
Your child learns to successfully express the emotions they are feeling which builds positive emotional expressiveness. This leads to the ability to express more positive emotions such as thoughtfulness and understanding, and less negative emotions. Children who engage in more socio dramatic play are shown to have better emotional development from an earlier age and this leads to more stable emotional relationships as adults.
As a parent you can help your child learn about the world by using pretend props for example sticks or rocks to represent fish or other animals and the food that animal eats. The child will accept this information even though they may never have seen this animal.
At around age 3 the child will process previously learned knowledge and begin to differentiate between what is plausible and what is not. They will retain information from plausible play more readily as the situation for example playing house, imitates real life situations. During fantasy play less information is stored as they recognize that this is unrealistic and won’t be used in other real life situations. If you are concerned about your child’s ability to distinguish between what is real and what is not, you can enter into the spirit of the play by using a silly voice and laughing saying ‘isn’t this silly’ for example.
Some parents worry when a child has an imaginary friend. This has been shown to be an indication of a highly developed level of creativity and adults who have had imaginary companions during childhood outperform others in creativity tests. (Kidd, 2005).
Playing ‘make believe’ is beneficial to a child’s development in every area and a you can join in and help guide the storyline, allowing them to expand their knowledge of the world whilst being in ‘pretend’ mode.
Here at Planet Apple Toys we have something for every child no matter what their interests. Music, the natural world, dinosaurs, nursery rhymes, DIY, dressing up, shopping, playing house, construction, in the mind of a child everything is possible.