What Is Pretend Play?

what is pretend play

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“A child who does not play is not a child, but the man who does not play has lost forever the child who lived in him.” — Pablo Neruda

pablo nuera
Pablo Nuera

Play is one of the most (if not the most) important aspects of children’s lives. It helps shape their personality, creativity, and perception of the world. But what is pretend play? And how is it different from normal play?

Pretend play or “role play” is when the children use their imagination to create imaginative scenarios with the simplest toys available. An example of pretend play is when a little girl plays with her doll house, or when a boy imagines that he’s a policeman or like my son Leon, Elsa from Frozen.

As a parent, you should understand why pretend play is important and why you should motivate your child to pretend play.

The Importance of Pretend Play

Here’s why pretend play matters.

Improves Imagination

There are hundreds of toys that you could get your child. These toys come in various complexities and shapes. 

Some of these toys, especially the electronics, limit the amount of creativity needed to enjoy the toy. For example, a remote-controlled car is so fun to play with but ultimately, it’s just pressing a button that makes an object move.

child pretending to take a picture

More simple toys like doll houses and bricks are known as open-ended objects. These toys have a great replay value. Today, the child will use the bricks to make a house. Tomorrow, the child will make a tower, and so on. Today they may recreate dinner time in the doll house, tomorrow they might redecorate.

Every time a child uses an open-ended object, they tap into their creativity and imagination pool. This improves the brain functions and creativity of the child. It also makes them more responsive and curious about everyday life.

Improves Communication Skills

When children constantly play the role of another character or pretend that some dolls or objects are real, they pick up and learn new words to fulfill that role.

Children who participate in school plays and theaters have been observed to have a larger vocabulary base and more communication skills than those who don’t.

Improves Learning

Learning through writing and reading alone is a tedious process for us adults. It’s an even more boring process for children who want to have fun most of the time.

child chasing a bubble

Mixing pretend play with learning wouldn’t only make it fun, it’ll make the children come back asking for more.

It’s much easier for the child to learn something when he enjoys the process. It’s just more fun to create a tower of 10 bricks than simply learning numbers using a pen and paper.

How to Induce Pretend Play

As a parent, you should try your best to incorporate pretend play into your child’s life. Here’s how.

Control the Electronics

Have you ever read a fantastic novel and were so ecstatic that a movie about that novel is in the making, only to be disappointed with how the movie turned out to be? For me it was Girl on the Train. But, I digress.

What makes things even stranger is that many others who haven’t read the novel, enjoyed the movie a lot.

What happened there is that your imagination created a much more vivid representation of the movie that the live-action film couldn’t capture.

This is exactly the case with children. In a world dominated by electronic toys, mobile devices, and screens, children are constantly shown pictures and colors without having to exert any effort.

This drastically diminishes their creativity and imagination.

Parents should control how much screen time their children have. Playing with handheld rather than virtual objects goes a long way in developing your child’s mind.

Make It a Daily Routine

If you have a dog or a cat, you would do your best to provide some playtime for them in your schedule. Your children should be your priority when it comes to schedule clearance and time management.

When parents join the pretend play with their children, they improve the companionship and reduce the likability of having socially anxious children.

A Few Extra Words

So, what is pretend play? It’s using imagination to make anything more joyful. The simpler the toys, the more imagination the child will use.

We’re not encouraging you to fully deprive your children of modern ways to have fun. We’re just pointing out that you need to find a good balance between games that require pretend play and more sophisticated ones like electronics and video games.

That extra effort you put in now will go a long way in bringing up a mentally healthy child.