“There is no activity for which young children are better prepared than fantasy play. Nothing is more dependable and risk-free, and the dangers are only pretend,” ‘The Importance of Imaginary Play’, 2004, Vivian Gussin Paley.
Learning through imaginary play has long been recognised as an important component of child development. As far back as the late nineteenth Century, studies have proven an association between role play and mental and behavioural development in babies and young children. For example, in the 1890s American psychologist and educator, Granville Stanley Hall focused on childhood development and evolutionary theory. Hall was the father of the Child Study Movement, which initiated an interest in the developmental, mental and behavioural world of babies and children. While it has long been considered important to early years’ development, in exactly what way does pretend play help benefit babies and young children?
Developing social skills
Role play is an extremely social act. Given that success at school has been largely pinned on a child’s ability to positively interact with their contemporaries and adults, developing social skills is imperative in young children. All walls of reality are broken in imaginary and role play as children pretend to be something or someone different from themselves. In being assigned and accepting different roles and then acting them out, this type of play practises both verbal and non-verbal communication skills. When children group together and practice imaginary play, they negotiate roles and mutually agree different terms. This helps youngsters develop the skills they need to socialise and cooperate with their peers. They learn how to control impulses and how to respect the decisions of others, which is a central aspect of sound social skills.
Communication and language skills
Imaginary play and role play typically involves verbal communication. When children participate in dramatic types of play, they copy and practice the words they have heard others saying which ultimately develop vocabulary and language skills. In addition, children are aware that in order to participate well in the game they need to listen to others in order to respond and follow the game in an appropriate manner. Not only does this type of play therefore promote the use of speaking but it also promotes collaborative and listening skills. Not to mention the art of conversation with ones imaginary friends!
Cognitive development Make believe play involves children recalling pictures they have built up in their mind from past experiences. Whether it is their mum paying for goods at a supermarket or a nurse bandaging their knee at the doctor’s, with imaginary play children recreate these scenes they have built up in their heads and practice solving problems that are often part of these pretend scenarios. In observing, discovering and carrying out deductive reasoning, pretend play is critical for cognitive skills and helping children build the ability to solve problems and draw their own conclusions.
Physical development In pretending to be someone or something else in a theatrical way, pretend play can help develop a child’s gross and fine motor skills. From putting their character’s costume on to putting the props away when the game has finished, role play builds hand-eye coordination as well as developing visual discrimination.
So what toys can help bring imaginary play to life?
Pretending to be dad cooking in the kitchen while mum lays the table, has long been a firm role play favourite. With their toy hobs, tiny utensils, sinks, microwaves and even dishwashers, play kitchens provide the perfect prop to let children’s kitchen-inspired imaginations run wild
Play shops with pretend food, cashiers, shelves and money never fail to ignite excitement in children as they act out being shop assistants and customers. As well as being a great way to encourage interaction and communication, play shops with their pretend money can also help develop numerical skills. In promoting mathematic understanding, play shops are great preparatory aids for pre-school children.
Dolls houses have fascinated children and adults alike for centuries. With their miniature furniture, intricately decorated interiors and moveable roofs, children can have hours of fun playing with dolls houses. In re-enacting real-life scenarios in the home, dolls houses are a fabulous place for children’s imaginations to soar.
Disclosure: This post is brought to you in association with Born to Toddle. The article was also written by them, and edited for inclusion within the site. For a range of toys that promote imaginary and role play in young children, visit Born to toddle’s nursery furniture. Also you can go to their Pinterest boards for more inspiring ideas. Does your child like imaginative play – what do they like to play with, an how do you encourage it – do tell us below