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Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Let's Pretend!

I don’t know about you, but some of my favorite memories from my childhood, are of pretending with my brothers, and my cousins! Little did we know, as we explored and searched for adventure, we were honing a wide variety of skills and knowledge, which would serve us well in our adult worlds later on in life.

For us, pretend play encompassed so many ideas and scenarios.  In a matter of about 10 creative minutes, we could design and build an airplane, made out of a saw horse, some planks, and a tin pail. As we collaborated and problem solved we gathered blankets, boards, cardboard, and a variety of broken down furniture, to create an amazingly strong and safe fort to defend the ‘western frontier’. Playing school involved organizing a wide variety of ‘school-like’ activities and always required some type of performance, whether for the Christmas concert, or other show providing chances for leadership and helping develop our confidence. Our childhood was a smorgasbord of pretend play choices: stores, hospitals, winning/loosing the ‘big game’, treasure hunts, museum building, hunting bears, sea voyages on our rafts down the river, and camp-outs at the beach, filled our days, enriched our lives, and unbeknownst to us, helped to prepare us for later success in life.

Pretend Play, or Make-believe Play, is an integral component of early childhood development. Dr. Scott Barry Kaufman, Jerome Singer and Dorothy Singer define pretend or make believe play as “the acting out of stories which involve multiple perspectives and the playful manipulation of ideas and emotions. They add  that this play “reflects a critical feature of the child’s cognitive and social development. The article provides a summary of some of the research related to the Need for Pretend Play in Child Development. The authors quote psychologist Sandra Russ, indicating she has identified a number of cognitive and affective processes that are associated with pretend play. The authors state that over the last seventy-five years a number of theorists and researchers have identified the values of such imaginative play as a vital component of the normal development of a child.

An article provided by Scholastic, describes the learning benefits of pretend play; stating "Young children learn by imagining and doing. They use objects to represent something else by giving it action and motion."  The author states "this pretend play is not as simple as it seems, and the process of pretending builds skills in many essential developmental areas, such as: social and emotional skills; language skills; thinking skills; and nurturing the child’s imagination".

Lauren Lowry, a Hanen Certified Speech Language Pathologist provides us with the How and Why of Encouraging Pretend Play.  Ms. Lowry describes the connection between pretend play and language. She states pretend play is also known as ‘symbolic play’ because it involves the use of symbols. "When we use something to stand for something else, such as when a child is playing and uses an object to stand for something else (e.g. using a spoon as a hairbrush or a tablecloth as a cape)." Lowry clarifies that, "this type of symbolic thought is also needed for language, as our words are symbols. Our words stand for our thoughts and ideas. Therefore, pretend play and language both involve the same underlying ability to represent things symbolically." In addition, language development is closely linked to learning to read and comprehend what has been read. This author provides information about why we should encourage pretend play, the stages of the development of these skills, and she includes valuable ideas for ways to encourage pretend play.

Pretend play is so important for so many different reasons! Some of the positive benefits of pretending include: helping children to gain practice using symbols, strengthening your child’s pretend skills, language skills, and later reading skills; exposing children to new vocabulary that they might not be exposed to in everyday life.  When you play with your child, you help them learn to play with others. Eventually your child will start to pretend with other children, where he will learn to take turns and collaborate. When children take on a pretend role, they imagine what it is like to be another person, which helps develop their ability to take another perspective and develop empathy.  Pretend play is fun! When you play like a child letting your imagination lead, you and your child will never run out of things to play. Can't you almost hear your childhood playmates calling you to come and play!? Join your little one as they pretend........magical, not to mention immensely valuable experiences await!