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Pretend Play is Important Work

Too Small to Fail
By Too Small to Fail

“Laughter is timeless, imagination has no age, and dreams are forever.”

-Walt Disney

When young children dress up as superheroes or doctors, or imagine that a cardboard box is a spaceship landing on the moon, they are taking part in pretend play. By pretending, children build their social and emotional development, and learn vital life skills, all while having fun.

Children explore their feelings about new situations and interactions with people through pretend play. Researchers have found that imaginary play helps children learn how to control their emotions and impulses by allowing them to practice first how they will speak or act in any given situation. Much like adults might practice a speech in front of a mirror, children use pretend play to prepare how they will behave in real life. And when they engage in pretend play with other children or adults, they learn how other people react in different situations, too.

Pretend play also allows children to test out language skills that they may otherwise be unsure of, as they talk out loud about their actions and those of imaginary friends.

The best kind of pretend play doesn’t require special toys or equipment: simple, inexpensive items laying around the house work great. Parents can encourage pretend play in their young children by providing them with safe, household items like old clothing and recycled cardboard to prompt their imaginations—and by joining in the fun, too!

Resources for Sharing:

  • This article from PBS Parents suggests some ways that parents can encourage pretend play in young children.
  • Research on the importance of imaginative, open-ended play from NPR.
  • This article from Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood explains the benefits of pretend play, and offers tips for parents.
  • These powerful quotes might inspire you to engage in imaginative role-play with your kids.

LISTEN: The city of Berkeley, California has started a playground where adventure and pretend play reign supreme for kids, starting from age 4. >>

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