Do your kids do this? They wake up one morning, and announce gleefully, “Today I am a bear! Good morning, Mama bear!” And the next day, they become ‘dinosaurs’, ‘monkeys’, and the list goes on. You might dismiss it as kids just being kids, but did you know that pretend play is, in fact, crucial to their development?
Research has shown that make-believe, role-playing, or pretend play, has benefits to children’s development, especially during the ages from 2 to 7 years. It is not just a brilliant way for kids to entertain themselves with very little, but also crucial to their development of language, social skills, and higher-order thinking. Let’s take a closer look at these benefits of engaging in pretend play.
They practice language
Researchers who studied the effects of pretend play in children found that those who engaged in role-playing regularly were able to use more advanced language structures earlier than their peers who did not role-play often.
And it makes sense – imaginative play allows children to converse in varied ways. Instead of being limited to their day-to-day vocabulary and children’s speak, they explore wider lexicon and language expressions when they take on other roles.
Making sense of the world
Pretend play is one way by which children navigate the world, as they can ‘rehearse’ for real-life situations through role-play. For example, by enacting scenes of buying grocery at the market, children can practice the procedure of picking out items and making payment for them.
Role-playing in various situations also helps children process their thoughts and feelings of those experiences. For instance, a dentist visit might be fearful to many kids, but role-playing it can help them come to terms with the nerves and regulate their response.
Develop awareness of different perspectives
‘Theory of Mind’ is a concept used to describe the skill of being aware that everyone has a different perspective of the world. Children typically develop a Theory of Mind between ages 3 to 5, which is where they start to understand that individuals have different feelings, visual perspectives, beliefs, and so on – which are different from their own.
Thus, the very essence of role-playing requires them to have developed this skill, and continues to hone it by developing their empathy and sensitivity to others. Eventually, pretend play plays a part in broadening their world view, expanding it beyond an egocentric one.
Nurture higher-order thinking
The storylines of make-believe sessions are seldom smooth-sailing – like any good story, there are problems to be solved and crises to be averted. When engaging in role-play, children are also exercising their higher-order thinking to solve these fictional problems in creative and practical ways.
A heightened sense of adaptability is also needed when kids pretend-play with others. They no longer call the shots in their own drama, but need to communicate, negotiate, and react in ways relevant to the situation. Unsurprisingly, these are also skills that will come in handy throughout the rest of their lives, be it in school or at the workplace.
After discovering the numerous benefits of pretend play, are you seeing your child’s make-believe skits in a new light now? Indeed, children are learning all the time – not just when they sit down to read and complete worksheets. Acting and drama are also widely used in school to help children further engage with their learning materials.
If you are looking for an international school in Singapore for your child, don’t forget to take into account how the school treats play and other forms of learning as well, as these all serve important roles in your child’s development. At the Canadian International School, children in their IB Primary Years Programme are exposed to a play-based and inquiry-led learning environment to promote discovery and foster a love for learning. In fact, most of the best kindergarten schools today do!
So, don’t stop your child the next time they start on their wacky skits at home – play along, and let them learn in the way they know best!