Pretend Play in the Early Years

How to Promote Imaginative Play with Young Children

Young children learn through imagination. Children have the ability to turn a cardboard box into a race car through pretend play. But what are they actually doing?

In childhood, children learn through using their imagination and exploring. To an adult it may seem bizarre that a child can have such fun with objects, manipulating them to be what they want them to be. But this is not as simple as it may seem. Pretend play is a vital way for children to gain skills in many of the developmental areas.

Most Early Years and Day Care centers have a role play area set aside. This can include a home corner, dressing up box or some other form of role play. During this play children are able to learn skills and have experiences that will prepare them for life.

Social, Emotional and Personal Development

During pretend play children can build up their self-esteem. By having the opportunity to dress up and effectively become someone else it gives children that feeling that they can do anything. Roleplay experiences give children the opportunity to play cooperatively. This enables them to develop important life skills such as; sharing, turn-taking and problem-solving.

Young children are very egocentric in their thinking. This means that they struggle to see things from any other point of view than their own. Pretending to be somebody else can allow children to de-center and allow them to see things from the perspective of their character.

Language Development

Children build a large vocabulary of language during role-play or pretend play. Language is used everywhere in life, and children will use it in their play. Children may have a one-sided conversation down a pretend phone, or be chatting away to other children. Providing opportunities for children to use their language skills is important. A toy telephone, a notepad and a pen can help to encourage language development.

Children will often copy the language which they hear in role-play situations. For example, a child pretending to be a mother feeding a doll may say,” Eat up your vegetables” or “one more mouthful”. These are often things that have been said to the child at mealtimes.

Cognitive Development

Pretend play helps to develop a child’s intellectual development. By pretending objects are something else, for example a cardboard box as a car, children are beginning to develop abstract thinking. In the future abstract thinking will allow children to understand that numbers represent mathematical quantities and letters represent the language that we read,speak, hear and write.

Ways to Facilitate Pretend Play in Day Care

It is important to create a roleplay area where children are able to explore their thoughts and feelings. Some ideas for this area are:

  • Home Corner
  • Vets
  • Café
  • Doctors/Hospital
  • Shop
  • Garden Centre

There should also be an area for dressing up, which includes various dressing up clothes,hats, bags, shoes etc. A mirror is good to have nearby to allow the children to look at themselves.

Whilst children are engaging in imaginative play they are developing social, emotional, physical, cognitive and language skills. Adults should become facilitators and provide what the child needs to continue to explore and build on these skills as they will become important in later life.


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