What is “pretend play?”
Pretend play is any play that involves the use of imagination to create a fantasy world or a situation. Typical children spend a lot of time engaging in pretend play (i.e. feeding the dolls, building a tower with legos, tea parties, flying a rocket ship, etc.).
Why is pretend play important during childhood years?
Young children learn by imagining and doing. Pretend play is correlated with other positive attributes. Preschool age children who have imaginary friends are more creative, have better social understandings, and are better at taking the perspective of others (Taylor, 1999). Research has also shown significant positive relationships between pretend play and social competence and involvement in children aged five to seven years (Uren and Stagnitti, 2008). When children pretend to be different characters they learn to put themselves in other people’s shoes and they start to learn about other people’s emotions. This is called “perspective taking” and it’s a skill that is typically lacking in our kiddos with Autism Spectrum Disorders. Pretend play also helps children learn problem solving and language skills. Have you ever heard children dress up their dolls and play mommy and daddy? When I was a preschool teacher I saw this all the time. These children did such a great job imitating their parents word by word. They would also come up with problems that they typically saw in their house and they would try to solve it. I’d hear things like (i.e. “Oh no the doggy ran away; we have to look for him now.” or “Aidan did not put his toys away; he needs to clean before daddy gets home.”)
Tips to promote pretend play:
1- Imagination Box: Have a box in your house filled with random objects such as fabric pieces, kitchen utensils, dishes, dolls, old clothes, cheap jewelry boxes, shoe laces, cans, old cellphones, magazines, etc.
2- Have a Picnic: Use food play and dishes to have a picnic at home. Pretend like you are washing and cooking the food. Feed the teddy bears or dolls, wipe their faces, and clean up the dishes.
3- Weather Man: Ask the kids to be weather man/woman when they wake up in the morning and report about the weather for the day. Help them look out the window or step outside to check the weather.
4- Restaurant Play: This was my favorite when I was a kid. My mom made lunchtime super fun by telling us we could have our own restaurant for the day. Each day during lunchtime, my brother and I got turns pretending like we were restaurant owners. We had to come up with a name for our restaurant, take orders, bring the food, and clean up.
5- Cars: Pretend like the floor is a city and the cars are driving around, stopping by to get gas, getting groceries, etc.
6- Play-Doh: Let your kids play with Play-Doh. Help them create people, scenes, animals, etc. Then have them tell a story about what they made. One of my kids in therapy made me, himself, and our office staff out of Play-Doh and we put smily faces on our Play-Doh figures and talked about emotions.
7- Nap time/ bed time: When you are putting your kids down for a nap, help them put their stuffed animals down for a nap. We put these monkeys down for a nap in my therapy room last week. We sang the “five little monkeys jumping on the bed” song then the kids gave the monkeys hugs, and put them on the bed to sleep.
8- Cardboard Box: Did you know that you can make almost anything out of a cardboard box? Just check out Pinterest or google cardboard box crafts. We made a car out of a cardboard box last week and my son loved it. We pulled him around the house in it and then he ate his breakfast in it the next day.
10- Get Engaged: If you see your child having a tea party, ask them questions (i.e When are the guests arriving? Who is coming over? Where would you like to set up your tea party?)
Uren, N., & Stagnitti, K. (2008). Pretend play, social competence and involvement in children aged 5-7 years. The concurrent validity of the Child-Initiated Pretend Play Assessment, 56 (1), 33-40.