The importance of pretend play in child development.

Why Is Pretend Play So Important In Child Development?

The stages of play pretend  and the important skills that are developed when a child plays pretend.One of the endearing things you’ll see as your baby becomes a toddler is the first time she plays pretend.

It’s different for every kid. One child might pick up a mobile phone toy and talk like she were daddy. Another child may prop all her dolls on the floor and pretend like they’re having a picnic. Others may have a go at the play kitchen set and pretend he’s a chef.

This kind of play may seem funny or silly to some adults, but a lot of research have shown that pretend play greatly benefits a child’s emotional and cognitive development.

The Stages of Play by Jean Piaget

There are now a lot of research on the importance of symbolic play on children’s mental development, but Jean Piaget is greatly credited for his theory on the three stages of play.

According to Jean Piaget, there are three stages of play that a child goes through.


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0-2 years old – Practice Play

This play has a lot to do with testing one’s sensory motors – peek a boo, grasping and shaking a rattle – all these is a form of play.

2 – 7 years old : Pretend or Symbolic play

This usually involves two skills. First, the child uses a pretend play toy as a symbol of a real object. Some examples of these include having afternoon tea using playcups, using playdough for food or a play kitchen for boys and girls. A second part of pretend play is role playing. This is when kids pretend to be Superman, a doctor, a chef, – often characters or people he is familiar with.

7 – 11 years old : Games With Rules

This is when a child is usually ready to follow rules to play a game properly. Snakes and ladders, monopoly and other board games become a lot more interesting now when they already know how to follow the rules of the game.

Benefits On Cognitive Development

Play in itself has always been considered an important factor in a child’s cognitive development. It plays a big part on children’s daily experience. For this reason, it is best to encourage pretend play among young children.

Pretend play at this young age allows a child to explore the world around him from a safe environment. As a child plays, he learns. He observes the world around him, she listens to conversations, watches the environment, and then she makes her own little world based on her observations.

By doing so, she learns many things. She finds out how the world works. She learns to reason. She also tests the “real” world before actually becoming a full-pledged adult who works .

This observing and pretending is very crucial in the learning process. As Anthony Pellegrini et al states on their paper, Play and Evolution in Development, play is important in development because new life strategies are developed at very little cost to the individual.

The Skills

Here are the emotional and cognitive skills that a child develops when engaged in pretend play.

Language Skills

One of the cutest thing is when a toddler plays pretend and starts using words and phrases that he would not be able to use normally.

There may be many times when it feels like your toddler is not listening to what you’re saying. But she will surprise you at some point.

We all know of those videos of kids swearing that have gone viral, don’t we?

Mental Skills

Research have shown that symbolic play develops a child’s mental skills. Many pretend play involves a lot of reasoning and thinking skills.

For example, let’s talk about a child may pretending to be an astronaut. She needs a rocket or a spaceship. She will probably get some of the boxes you have lying around (you have some of those, right?), and then make a rocket for herself.

Or think about your little one playing with a play kitchen for boys.  He is practicing what he has seen — that putting things in the oven or the stove, cooks something.It’s also a way for him to identify what things are and where things go in the kitchen without the dangers that  real kitchen can sometimes bring.

All these requires using her mental skills which helps in its development.

Social Skills

Pretend play may not be real. But whenever a child engages in one, he propels himself into a parallel world that allows him to participate and reason. A child explores how people interact with each other, what to say when praised, what to do when someone is hurt (pretend doctor), what to cook for a hungry hippo (play kitchen sets anyone 🙂 ) , and what to say on a tea party.

All these prepares her when she finally goes out of the comfort of the house and into a bigger social setting.

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