Why Pretend Play is Essential for Your Toddler

Sam Flatman, an Educational Consultant for Pentagon Sport, encourages parents to get their toddlers engaged in pretend play for lots of reasons!

We all expect our primary aged children to be setting up shop in the living room, playing cook in the kitchen and hunting for fossils in the garden, but pretend play is also essential for our toddlers. Pretend play helps children to make sense of and learn about the world around them. While many toddlers will begin to play pretend of their own accord, there is still plenty that parents can do to encourage them to use their imaginations.

First Signs of Pretend Play

Every child is different, but it’s likely that sometime around the age of 18-24 months toddlers will start playing pretend for the first time. More commonly we see toddlers acting out scenes from real life, such as mimicking an adult by talking on the phone or pushing a pram. Give your toddler a chance to develop their own ideas when it comes to pretend play, and if you see an opportunity to get involved then join in! Speaking on the phone, even if it’s in gobbledygook, is a great way to play pretend with your child.

Symbolic Thinking

As your toddler progresses and their imagination grows, symbolic thinking occurs. For example, a toddler may play with teddy bears or dolls as though they are real, offering them food for lunch and tucking them into bed at night. They will also transform objects, for instance a water bottle might be used as a telephone. These activities are an excellent way to strengthen creative thinking, so make sure to provide your toddler with some everyday objects to play with - but remember not to overcrowd them with too many as toys are this can be confusing for young children. As your toddler gets older, they will become more adaptable and creative in their play.

How Does This Help My Toddler?

Toddlers will use pretend play as a way to express positive and negative emotions, and explore different feelings. Through role play, children put themselves in other people’s shoes and learn to empathise, whether that’s as a mummy, a teacher or a fairy. When they eventually begin to play pretend with their friends, this process becomes even more complex as they practise social skills, learn about social structures and begin to understand how their actions affect others.

When it comes to pretend play, ultimately children are learning to deal with real world situations and problems in a safe and calm environment. Let them use their imaginations and play make believe when they are young, and they will be able to apply the lessons learned at a later date.