This post is a 101 on pretend play and includes ideas for pretend play toys for the upcoming holiday season!
Your Ultimate Pretend Play 101 Guide
Definition of Pretend Play
Pretend play within the concept of child development is not black and white and evolves as a child develops.
Pretend play is a form of symbolic play where children use objects, actions or ideas to represent other objects, actions, or ideas using their imaginations to assign roles to inanimate objects or people. Classically, toddlers will use a broom and pretend he is riding a horse.
The Importance of Pretend Play
Here are a few key points highlighting the importance of pretend play in a child’s development:
- social & emotional skill development
- language skills
- conflict resolution skills
- communication skills
- fostering imagination
Stages of Pretend Play
Pretend play begins early in a child’s life but is limited by his imagination and experiences. So, early on, a child relies more on “symbolic play” and as he develops moves into “functional play”.
Piaget referred to these stages as the preoperational stage beginning around 2 years old (or when a child first begins to talk) and lasting until the age of 6 or 7. Early on, a child recognizes that objects or actions represent other objects or actions yet still recognize those objects or actions for what they truly are within context.
For example, a child may use a stick in a variety of ways such as pretending it is a fishing pole, a gun, or a magic wand. The child understands he is using a stick to play but uses symbolism to create and execute his imagination. If a child jumps off a couch and claims to be flying, he is using an action to pretend to be a superhero, for example, but still recognizes that he is not a superhero flying in the air.
As the child develops and grows older, symbolic play blossoms into play that involves thoughts such as “why is that?” instead of “what is that?” So, a child who plays with a stick may eventually desire to use a real fishing pole to put it into the context of the world in which he is experiencing. Another example is a 4-year-old may be playing with a cardboard box and announce that he is “playing moving”.
Montessori & Pretend Play
One of the big “concerns” or “criticisms” of Montessori is that Pretend Play is not encouraged in the classroom. Generally, I believe that pretend play is based in reality.
So, if we expose children to real-life through meaningful, productive work and experiences and allow them to open their eyes to the great big world around them, they will, in turn, incorporate these experiences into their play and their imaginations will be richer from it. (Sorry that was a long sentence.)
Therefore, the hope is that the play will have a more deeply ingrained impact on their development. I suppose it is like anything in life (going to business school and learning about management as opposed to actually having the experience…for example).
Montessori Services offers a good breakdown of real versus imaginary play in a Montessori classroom.
Pretend Play Toys
Melissa & Doug have a load of wonderful pretend (or symbolic) playsets for kids. This cleaning set is too functional and useful not to include in this list. Be sure to check out the myriad of other pretend play toys offered by Melissa & Doug.
Add this doctor’s office printable set and you’re golden!
This Etsy store has a ton of adorable pretend play materials including pretend play detective, police, and toolkit.
How adorable is this play grocery store checkout?
Pretend Play Resources
- Scholastic’s Ages & Stage of Pretend Play
- California Department of Education Symbolic Play Chart
- Development of Symbolic or Pretend Play Skills
- The Need for Pretend Play
- Importance of Pretend Play
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