Have you ever watched your child completely immerse themselves in imaginative play? Whether they’re taking your breakfast order, fixing Teddy’s sore arm, or creating their own imaginary city, pretend play – or imaginative play – is both a natural and vital part of childhood.
Pretend Play by Age
While pretend play begins when children are toddlers, it’s around the age of 3 years that their imaginations become more complex. Here’s a breakdown of what you can expect by age group:
18-24 months: Toddlers start by mimicking the adults they see in their everyday lives. At this age, your child is likely to pretend to talk on the phone, use keys, give teddy a sip from a cup, stir a pot with a big wooden spoon, or push a broom around the kitchen. At 24 months, your toddler will start to treat their teddy or dolls as though they’re babies, putting them to sleep and feeding them.
2-3 years: Here’s when pretend play starts to become more elaborate. While they’ll continue role-playing with their dolls, toddlers will now love creating play spaces of their own. Throw a sheet over the dining table for a makeshift fort, or create a little obstacle course in the living room with cushions and tunnels.
3 years: This is peak pretend play time. At 3, your child will adore playing restaurant with pretend play food sets, building towns with themed wooden block sets and little people, and hosting a tea party for their dolls and/or teddies. Three-year-olds act out the interactions they see in real life, creating scenarios where they can “be” someone – or something – else. exploring their place in the world.
4 years: At this age, pretend play evolves in complexity. Dialogue becomes more realistic and storylines more elaborate. Foster their creativity with playsets, costumes, child-sized versions of what they see in their everyday lives (empty cereal boxes, kitchen equipment), and still plenty of open-ended items, like cardboard boxes and wooden blocks.
Benefits of Imaginative Play
Pretend play encourages children to develop socially. When they imagine themselves as someone else, they put themselves in that person’s shoes, learning empathy, which helps them take the feelings of others into consideration as they grow. When they pretend with others, they learn cooperative play – how to share, the dynamics of friendship, and even the art of negotiation, eg. who gets to be the hero in this game?
Pretend play develops language, speech & communication skills. They’ll learn how to express themselves, listen to others and develop their vocabulary as they act out scenarios.
Pretend play is where creativity rules! Welcome to a world where a cardboard box is a train, and a wooden spoon is a magic wand. Let their imaginations run wild and watch their self esteem blossom!
Pretend play boosts intellectual development, including cognitive thinking skills like problem solving and thinking through the stages of, for example, building a fort or a wooden block city.
And of course, there’s the bonding. If you’re invited to a tea party, or asked to answer a banana phone, entering your child’s imaginary world is a wonderful memory for both of you.
How to encourage your child’s pretend play
Possibly the best thing you can do to set the stage for pretend play is to clear your child’s diary. Scale back on the activities, invite their buddies over, and… let them entertain themselves.
Help them along by setting out goodies that’ll stimulate their creativity. It could be a play kitchen with accessories and pretend food groceries; or completely open-ended, like a cardboard box, laundry basket or blankets to make a fort.
Put away the toys that bleep or blink or make a noise, and shelve the branded toys, giving your child freedom to make up completely new characters.
Pretend play toys for building
1 100-Piece Wooden Block Set, 2 years+ ($32.99) 2 Little Professionals Wooden Character Set, 3 years+ ($19.99) 3 Blockopolis, 3 years+ ($29.99) 4 52-Piece Daydream Castle Building Blocks, 12 months+ ($34.99)