The Power of Make Believe: Encouraging Pretend Play
by Michelle Albright, PhD, innovativeKids
Tis the season for dress ups! Is your child going to be a cheetah, a pirate, a princess, a superhero? Halloween costumes are all about making believe.
But what about everyday pretend play? Young children learn by imagining and doing. Sometimes, kids need a little help from their parents to break out of their routines, get creative, and really use their imaginations. Here are some tips you can use to inspire them!
- Plan for play. Ask your children what they want to play and encourage them to think about the different characters, props, or scenarios they might want to create. Help your children figure out what roles they will play and how they might act like a dragon, talk like a teacher, or move like a bird.
- Look to favorite stories for inspiration. Encourage children to create and perform a play based on one of their best-loved stories. They can try out different roles, or even invent a different ending!
- Don’t just rely on the realistic replicas. Instead of searching actual crowns, capes, and cowboy hats, give your kids neutral objects like paper plates and cups, sheets and towels, and ribbon and yarn and see what they can create. Encouraging children to alter or create existing materials will foster their cognitive skills and creativity.
- Take a supporting role. Playing a supporting role can help guide and stimulate children’s pretend play. For example, if your kids want to play doctor, pretend to be a patient and describe what’s hurting. This can help model roles and expand your children’s language, communication, and perspective-taking.
- Alter the ages. If possible, encourage your child to play with kids of all different ages. Watching older children play can help model and motivate imagination, language, and social skills, while mentoring younger children can build confidence and comfort.
- Make it a challenge. Take an ordinary household object like a shoe box or empty jar and challenge everyone in the family to create something with it. Give everyone a few hours or a few days and then showcase and share what each person has come up with. (Not a Box, by Antoinette Portis, is a fun book you can read before starting this activity).