My nine year-old came bounding into the living room yesterday, weilding an unsharpened pencil and wearing his Harry Potter robe from last Halloween. “To your feet ye scallion and walk the plank or fix me snack…please!” I jumped to my feet, swooped into a low bow and said, “Please, my Lord, spare me the murky waters of the unknown and I shall prepare a lovely plate of apples and caramel dip to your liking…and thank you for using ‘please’ when you asked!”
To say it is never a dull moment in our house is an understatement. One moment I’m the queen of the castle, signing papers and watching magic shows. The next minute I’m the proud owner of a 3 year-old ‘puppy’ that looks strikingly like my younger son. Pretend play is probably the most important aspect of development for children at any age.
Pretend play lends itself well into so many developmental areas. Most notably, pretend play allows children to practice real-life scenarios. We can be Best Friends and have a disagreement that we work out. We can meet a stranger in a store and work on how to handle that situation. We have even pretended that our house was in danger (fire, flood, even dragons once in the chimney!) and worked out how to handle it. Pretend play is a safe way to explore those “scary” things in a child’s life while still having the comfort of it only being pretend. Children can solve problems that they may encounter in a safe and nurturing way. And, it opens the door to great discussions between adults and children.
Pretend play is also great for improving and enhancing vocabulary skills. Oral communication is a key component to language development at any age, so utilizing dialogue in pretend play only enhances those skills. While younger children benefit in obvious strides from conversational pretend play, older children also learn to use difficult and new words in context while still being in a “safe” environment.
Children who actively engage in pretend play tend to have better social skills as well. Putting themselves in self-created situations gives the children a chance to learn to appropriately interact with peers and others. They can work on manners and correct behavior while still having a great deal of fun.
An important part of pretend play, for adults, is to join in if the child will let you or wants you. The interaction with a child engaging in pretend play can open the doors to deeper discussions about problems – with friends, in school, or just in life in general. Use pretend play with puppets or stuffed animals to encourage a child to open up and share something that may be bothering him or her. Sometimes, children can communicate better in third person than speaking on a more personal level; just remember to be open and non-threatening as well as non-judgemental.