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The Value of Pretend Play

If your child has come along to an appointment at Kids That Go, it’s very likely that there was a lot of play involved! And more specifically, pretend play. Why is this, you might wonder? Well, pretend play comes with learning – and that is definitely very real! Studies have linked pretend play to all manner of good things in children, from better long-term academic outcomes to wellbeing and self-regulation.


Pretend play creates the opportunity for children to:

  • Learn how to recognise and respond to a range of feelings.
  • Process incidents by providing a safe space for children to act out scenarios or experiences they find challenging in real life.
  • Solve problems – the nature of pretend play often means there are problems or scenarios for the children to solve.
  • Practice language and communication skills.
  • Practice negotiation and collaboration skills when involved in group pretend play.
  • Playfully engage in fine and gross motor skills (think dressing & feeding dolls, stomping around pretending to be a dinosaur etc).


For some children, engaging in pretend play can be challenging. All children differ in their thinking and learning styles and that is ok! If your little person needs a helpful nudge with their pretend play, there are many ways that you can build their skills. It’s important to use their strengths and slowly build on the variety of play.


Ideas to help build pretend play skills:

  • Practice actions and activities that they are familiar with in everyday life. Eg eating, sleeping, dressing, driving.
  • Wait, wait and wait! After you have demonstrated an action (eg mixing in a cup) wait for your child to copy the action, extend the play or respond in some way. For parents with children who are challenged by pretend play, the length of time you will have to wait is often a lot longer!
  • Challenge play by altering the story line and adding an event each time you play that “game.”
  • Encourage object substitution with things like a box for a car, a block for a phone, a pencil for a wand.
  • Play needs to be real and fun play together, without incorporating the iPad, TV etc.
  • Follow your child’s lead as much as possible – if it’s meaningful to them, they are more likely to engage in play.


As an adult, sometimes it may look or feel ridiculous to engage in pretend play with your little one, but there really is so much value in pretend play! Pretend play requires lots of imagination, and as Albert Einstein said, “Imagination is more important than knowledge. Logic will get you from A to Z; imagination will get you everywhere.” As adults, we are constantly using imagination to solve problems, invent new things, enjoy a book or movie, to come up with ideas, and think creatively. However, as adults, it can be hard to create pretend play opportunities with our kids. Sometimes our adult brains just can’t get in the zone…there’s also work and washing and never-ending jobs to be done!


The good news is play opportunities don’t have to last long, even small amounts of quality pretend play have wonderful lasting effects. The real “gold dust” of pretend play, is actually a bunch of children playing with no adult involved. Look to create opportunities for play between siblings, friends, cousins etc. You can help encourage pretend play by sourcing props and help with building of ideas for play and then step back and let the children work their magic!


If your child is having difficulties with their pretend play skills, or you have questions about your child’s overall development, our therapists at Kids That Go would love to help.


CERIE JAMIESON (Occupational Therapist).

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