Dramatic imaginative or pretend play is a type of play that allows children to experiment or imitate a role. It encourages children of any age to experience someone else’s perspective as well as recreate real-life situations to better understand their world.
Play is how children navigate the world around them. Children play through their daily experiences repeatedly in different roles to make sense of them. For example, children who are transitioning out of diapers may begin by pretending they are parents, helping their dolls to use the bathroom.
Children that just went for a checkup may recreate a visit to a doctor taking turns being a doctor, nurse, or patient.
They may imitate cooking or cleaning like they see at home. Children also recreate scary or difficult situations to normalize them and empower themselves. They may choose to be the mom or dad or superhero to help conquer a situation that scared them, like a storm, or funeral, or getting a vaccine during a doctor visit.
Are They Really Learning?
Yes! When children engage in pretend play the list of skills they can learn is endless. Children will create the perfect stage even with limited props.
- Language: Pretending helps children to develop their vocabulary and expressive language, which are building blocks for reading and writing. Even shy children are motivated to explain to others what they want or need.
- Social skills: Children learn to work cooperatively to keep the activity going and solve problems as well as empathy as they practice different roles or characters. The more they practice this skill in play, the better prepared they will be to do this in real life and as adults. They are also practicing self regulation; when children are role playing they create rules to follow and are motivated to stick to them to keep the game going. Learning to cooperate with others they begin to value diverse perspectives.
- Social Studies: Children learn about different people in their family and community as they explore different roles.
How can I encourage dramatic play?
Dramatic play can look very different at home and at school. However, the recipe for successful dramatic play is the same in either situation. It just takes encouragement from important adults who provide time and space for uninterrupted play to happen.
- Pretend together. Let your child assign you a role. They might give you a baby to take care of or ask you to shop at their store or order some food at their restaurant. Just participate.
- Allow and encourage your child to use symbols in their pretending. Pick up a block and pretend to call someone, use a marker for a baby bottle, or grab a pillow to be the monster of the castle. Make paper items needed for imaginative play such as: menus for restaurants or money, or tickets for a train ride.
Create your own props:
- Save empty cartons or spice containers for play food.
- Let children use some utensils, pots or dishes from the kitchen.
- Keep old clothes or shoes to use for dress up.
Ask questions to extend their thinking and play. For example:
- Is your baby hungry? What should we do?
- Do you work at this store, I’m ready to buy some food?
- Do you work at this store, I’m ready to make some food?
- What are you cooking? It smells so good. What ingredients did you use?