What are they learning by pretending?
Pretend play or imaginative dramatic play is the acting out of stories which involve multiple perspectives and the playful manipulation of ideas and emotions. It plays a vital role in a child’s development. It helps them learn to make sense of the world.
I remember as a young child racing home after spending 7 hours at elementary school and the first thing I wanted to do when I came home was to play school. I always wanted to play the teacher, being in charge of the whole class of stuffed animals. Years later…I became a teacher.
Most of my early childhood years I spent time playing with baby dolls. I took them everywhere, made clothes for them, fed them, insisted my parents make them real pancakes just like they were making for me, I changed their diapers, and swayed and snuggled with them. Many years later….I became a mother.
I also loved running around in my bare feet outside with the neighborhood kids. We spent hours playing cops and robbers. We had metal hand cuffs and my parents let me have a cap gun. I was thrilled with the loud sound and smoke odor that escaped it every time I pulled the trigger. I felt powerful. Years later….I never became a cop or a robber.
In my Kindergarten year I would spend my free time, washing Barbie dolls’ hair, and snipping away at the hair. Creating, ‘unique’ cuts. When I became dissatisfied with the Barbies, I moved on to bigger dolls, when that grew boring, I even moved on to cutting and styling my friends’ hair. My mom was a hair stylist and I wanted to try it out. …..I never become a cosmetologist. (Thank goodness. I had many a bald Barbies and many friends with uneven bangs.)
I even pretended to be Michael Jackson. I had the sweet red leather jacket and a single sequined glove. I knew all the dance moves to Thriller. I did not become the King of Pop, though I still like to dance.
Sometimes it can be scary to watch your child in pretend play. Watching them point a sword and chase after each other and shouting “I’m going to get you.” Watch their faces. Do they look like they are having fun? Are the smiling and laughing while being chased. If so, let it happen. If they seem unsure, it’s time to step in and check in. Do they need help setting a limit? Are they worried about something? If your child enjoys playing bad guys it doesn’t mean they will turn out to be one. Just as putting on a princess dress and twirling around, doesn’t mean your child will become a princess.
A child who loves performing check ups on you or the dog, may become a doctor or a vet. But they might also just be enjoying the play.
Playing and trying out different roles helps them to understand more about these roles. It gives them a different perspective. When children engage in dramatic play they gain many skills. They experience freedom to express and work through positive and negative feelings. They learn perspective taking, problem solving skills, social skills, communication skills and empathy. It can enrich their creativity and expression of ideas. All of these skills enhance a child’s cognitive, social, and emotional development.
…Amy Rudawsky, SYC Co-Director