It’s not just pretending
Do any of these scenarios sound familiar?
Your toddler gets down on all fours and begins to bark at you.
Your three-year-old decides that “You be the little brother and I’ll be the mum”.
Your five-year-old plays alone with their toys, complete with characters, silly voices and sound effects
If they’re happening at your place, or when you’re out and about, it’s great news. These, and other make-believe scenes, are the very important work of dramatic or pretend play.
Why is this type of play so important? Here are some of the many reasons dramatic play, make-believe or imaginary games are perfect for development in so many areas.
Taking control and feeling empowered
When children assume the role of parent, teacher, king or queen, they can take control of their world for a short time. They become the experts, and so they experience empowering feelings, such as competency and being skilful.
Sometimes children have trouble managing their feelings so role play is a way of processing new or difficult experiences and emotions.
Expand vocabulary and empathy
In dramatic play, children get to be who they want to be! So, when they become ‘the superhero’ they also talk from that perspective. Doing this not only provides an opportunity to explore their vocabulary, using new and different words, but also helps to develop empathy and understanding of the world around them.
Recognising letters and words
Some children have fun making or adding signs to their train track or writing lists for their trip to the shops. These ‘real-life’ experiences create a meaningful motivation to play at mark-making and a desire to want to learn to write or recognise words and letters.
So how do parents and caregivers encourage this type of play?
Children love having the important grown-ups in their lives play with them, so try to instigate dramatic play. Notice what your child is interested in or pick a new experience your child has had and start playing. You could become a dog that wants to go on a walk, turn your kitchen into the grocery store or, for a more relaxing version, you could be looking for a new hair style at the hairdressers or meet for a babyccino at the café.
Sometimes, the best thing we can do is get out of the way and let it happen. The essential ingredient is time. So, allow some time at home or in a park that is open-ended and unstructured. Provide toys like dolls, animals, figurines or other props like boxes, big sheets of material and simple dress-ups to help create scenarios and characters. Let your child's imagination run free and have fun hearing the adventures your little one goes on without even leaving the house.
Ask the friendly staff at your local library or Indigenous Knowledge Centre to suggest picture books about children having their own imaginary adventures for more ideas to share with your child or encourage more dramatic play in your day.