Children need pretend play. They need to dress up, build with wooden blocks, and cook in a pretend kitchen. All of these activities are fundamentally important to their development. Experts say that children of all ages should have an opportunity to participate in pretend play each and every day. The benefits and the skills that kids are learning are extraordinary.
When participating in pretend play, children will learn how to work out real-life situations. They are able to pretend to be a doctor and give their teddy bear a shot. If the parents have recently divorced, the child may pretend that their dolls parents divorced. Being able to have control of the situation in a safe place allows the child to work through frightening or difficult situations. Normally when visiting the doctor, the child may not understand what is happening and then they react out of fear. Pretend play with doctor’s medical kit gives them different emotions about the situation so that for the next visit, they are not afraid.
Pretend play also provides the child with scenarios where they have to create feelings for the characters. If Timmy, the bear, tells Suzy, the doll, that he does not like her hair, the child will have to decide how Suzy will react. This allows them to understand that if they tell Julie, at school, that they do not like how she looks, it may hurt her feelings and she will be sad.
In the same manner, the child will learn cause and effect. An action figure may decide to steal something from the grocery store. When the child, the store owner, catches the action figure, they may decide that the police need to be called and the thief will go to jail. This will help them understand that breaking the law and making the wrong choices have very real consequences. Working out numerous different situations helps the child develop the emotional and social intelligence that is needed to function in everyday society.
Children are also able to explore who they are through pretend play. More often than not, little girls create a family of their own. They become a mother and their dolls are the children. The child is also able to explore different interests and discover their abilities. If they pretend to play football at home, they may decide it’s not for them. In case the child pretends to be a cook, they may decide that they would like to learn how to make a cake. If they are able to fold their doll’s clothes or clean the dishes for their kitchen, then they will actually be able to do it around the house. It is amazing what children are capable of when we do not interfere.
When pretending, children are also able to put their knowledge to use in a pretend real-life way. They may use writing and spelling to write signs for a football game. Kids are using math when they play grocery store. They must set a price and add it up in order to sell the items. Sorting and figuring out similarities and differences come into play when they are setting up their kitchen. They are able to make the judgment that milk has to go in the refrigerator to stay cold and canned vegetables go in the cabinet. Pretending gives them the opportunity to practice everyday knowledge without even realizing it.
We, the parents, have a responsibility to the children to allow them to develop these essential skills. We need to give them the tools that are needed to understand real-life situations in a safe environment. This will help them to develop their social skills, as well as put the knowledge that we have already taught them to use. They are not simply playing and passing the time, they are acquiring knowledge and skills that will set them up for future success as adults.