What is pretend play? Not all play is created equal, and not all play is the same. Today I’m going to talk about a very special kind of play, Pretend Play.
What exactly is pretend play? Key things we would see in pretend play: Object substitution – I pretend an object is something it’s not Reference to absent objects – I make up people, objects or scenes that aren’t there. Attributing properties to objects – the object is given detail. (definition of play by Karen Stagnitti, 2009)
Why does pretend play matter? People ask why is this pretend play important? Why do we need to look for it? Isn’t it just a phase for younger kids?
Even adults engage in pretend play! It just looks different! We draw, write stories, tell jokes, act. More subtly, we imagine scenes in our heads, and have an inner dialogue. If you think of play that way, what does it tell us? Play helps by: Allowing us to solve problems by giving us a place to try out ideas safely providing us a place to express our feelings and thoughts, or to soothe ourselves to share stories and ideas with others, and to think from others perspectives allows us to share our experiences with other people And very importantly, it brings joy!
But did you know, that not everyone learns to pretend play? Like anything, our pretend play abilities require practice and a supportive environment to grow and develop.
How can I help? We can help to support our children’s engagement in play in many ways. We can help by: Supporting our child to put away the screen-based activities so that they have time to experiment with other forms of play providing open-ended toys such as cardboard boxes, tubes and sticks, buttons etc. Provide your child with simple toys, such as a farm set, dress-up clothes, some dolls or figurines. Sit with me when I play, describe what I am doing, and perhaps adding to my storyline. Did I just pretend to make a cake, I wonder if we could share it with our toy friends? You don’t need expensive toys to do pretend play, in fact, most children are able to play better when provided with a smaller selection of toys in a play session rather than a large quantity. Toys with all the lights and bells often look cool, but sometimes it’s better to keep it simple.
Remember that stick? The ways of playing with a stick are endless, as beautifully demonstrated here:
Signs of extra help needed
Some children need additional help through an allied health provider such as an occupational therapist to develop their pretend play skills. Signs that your child might benefit from this:
My child doesn’t interact with their toys in play.
My child has difficulty playing by themselves, and requires constant distraction or support.
My child’s play looks different to their friends.
My child is having difficulty regulating their emotions, understanding others or playing with their friends.
My child only plays with toys literally, they don’t make up stories in their play.
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