My favourite thing that Darcey got for Christmas is her little kitchen. It’s not just because we, as a family, love food and cooking or that Darcey loves eating but it’s super cool to pretend to do those things too! (I’m a much better pretend chef than real one!) It was so amazing how quickly she picked up how to do ‘real’ things with her kitchen. She was ‘mix-mix-mixing’, frying plastic foods and seasoning her meals.
Pretend play, while fun, is really good at helping a child’s development. Not just at Darcey’s age (18 months) but as they get to school age and beyond.
Children learn about themselves and the world.
Pretend play experiences are some of the first and best ways that a child will learn about their interests, abilities likes/dislikes and what they do and don’t find funny. They’ll act out and experiment with role play and work to make sense of what they’ve seen their parents/extended family do. It’s a fun and safe way for them to explore these scenes and scenarios.
They work out scary, new or confusing life issues.
Children like to play ‘Mummies and Daddies’ or ‘Doctors and Nurses.’ If you’ve ever watched them, you’ll see them caring for a (sometimes) crying baby or maybe watch a child give another their injections. It’s their way of exploring an experience that could be any of the things in the heading but by relating to them in this way it can make them more prepared for these future events.
They will develop the important social and complex thinking skills they’ll need in later life.
By pretending, children aren’t just engaging in a simple play activity. It requires them to think from different, even multiple perspectives, strategise and communicate. They’ll learn to cooperate and consider other’s view points. They will be able to transfer these skills to other pretend situations and eventually, real life.
Pretend play promotes emotional intelligence.
Our relationships and interactions with others is instrumental to our lifelong happiness and success. Reading social cues are invaluable and pretend play hones this skill. There is no substitute for creative and imaginative play when it comes to teaching and enhancing these abilities in children.
Albert Einstein said “Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited to all we now know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand.” While I don’t think that she’s unravelling the mysteries of the universe (not yet anyway!) I can really see her learning through playing. Or maybe she’s just shouting “Mix, mix, mix!”
If you’re interested in reading a bit more (and by that I mean a whole lot more!), here is a link to a review of the evidence on pretend play that was published by the American Psychological Association.