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When we think of playtime, we often consider it to be time set aside for running around the playground or playing with toys. While it’s true that these are forms of play that are very important, it’s not the only forms of play. Children learn a lot through play. In fact, learning through play is now considered as an essential method of learning and development for children.
Pretend play, or imaginative play, is an essential aspect of a child’s development where they learn by observing, imagining and doing. Have you ever seen a child play with a discarded box by making it into their own little car or spaceship? Through pretend play, kids dive into their imaginary world and it doesn’t just stop there; it plays a vital role in developing their self-esteem and self-awareness. There is an undeniable sense of freedom that comes from creating your old little world of imagination and this is why you would find children so engrossed in it.
When a child engages in pretend play, he/she is actively experimenting with the social and emotional aspects of life. By taking on the role of teachers, doctors, parents and so on, the child gets the experience of walking in someone else’s shoes. This teaches the important moral skill of empathy and helps children to look beyond the world they are used to.
Through pretend play, children will experiment and also begin to understand the power of language. Often, kids use phrases and words they hear the adults around them speak and they imitate this during pretend play. Besides, through pretend play, children create and re-enact a story, where they make strong and valuable connections between spoken and written language.
When children get into their ‘pretend play world’, they learn how to solve problems through the course of play. This could be in subtle ways such as when the child draws on a random box to make it look like a spaceship or even in figuring out what role they should play and how to go about it.
Pretend play helps children to understand the importance of symbols which is a core skill that allows them to understand that letters stand for sounds and numbers for amounts and so on. Through the concept of pretend play. Children learn some core concepts of language and math. Isn’t it amazing how a block will just be a block for us adults, but give it to a child and watch how he/she transforms into a ship, a car, or a house. This serves as a crucial step in learning symbolic thinking.
As parents or educators, we need to provide children with simple, safe and fun toys and props. These can be anything from old pots to boxes, sheets and so on. Remember that when you give your child a specific toy such as a toy train, they wouldn’t need to use much of their creativity to play with it. Instead, try giving them simple objects that will motivate them to use their imagination.
Finally, when we talk about pretend play, parents are sometimes concerned when they see their child play with an ‘invisible friend’. This isn’t something to worry about – this is how some children discover how to develop skills they need to get along with other children. In fact, it’s alright to play along with the idea with your child because this is usually a transition stage, and not an indication that your child doesn’t understand reality.