Playing Pretend

January 17, 2019
Playing Pretend

Kids love to play pretend, and it’s important for their developing brains to practice these skills. Read on to learn more about the benefits of playing pretend!

1. Play Leads to Learning

Play is connected to children’s learning, more so than direct instruction. When children are taught to believe that there is only one right answer, or to use rote memory, they don’t learn how to learn or that learning can be fun and rewarding. Rote learning doesn’t represent applicable knowledge – just because you can count to 10, you may not understand that 7 is bigger than 3.

When children learn something from experiencing it, they learn it faster and more meaningfully.

2. “Real” Learning

Play is the best teacher because it allows children to try everything out with no real life consequences. For example, they can “be” the villain without getting into trouble, or the baby, or a tiger – or whatever their imagination comes up with!

3. Executive Function Skills

Pretend play is especially good for executive function skills, developed in the prefrontal cortex of the brain. We use these skills to manage our emotions, our attention, our intellect, and our behavior to reach our goals. Play can promote:

  • Perspective Taking: Being about to understand the thoughts and feelings of others and that they differ from your own.
  • Self-Regulation: The ability to regulate our emotions and react appropriately when we have big feelings. For example: Voluntarily following social rules, like not hitting people or throwing things.
  • Focus and Attention: Allowing a child to be able to attend to what they are trying to learn and maximize the information they get out of it. We know from research that attention skills at four years of age are a very strong predictor of literacy and math skills in middle school.
  • Impulse Control: The capacity to think before you act or resist the urge to say or do something impulsively. This allows us time to evaluate a situation, and how our behavior might impact it.
  • Cognitive Flexibility: Our ability to switch perspectives and see a situation in different ways, or to shift our attention and go with new ideas. Being creative, thinking outside of the box and problem solving also require cognitive flexibility.
  • Problem Solving: The ability to try strategies to take on challenges and avoid “getting stuck” when things are hard.

4. How to Support Pretend Play

Making room for open-ended and unstructured play time is important – one way to encourage pretend play is to have props, costumes, or puppets or dolls around the house. Parents can also act out new or challenging moments, transitions or events, like going to the doctor or starting kindergarten. You can also use books to discuss things “off the page”, like feelings, motivations and possible plot lines.

For more information on executive function skills form Mind in the Making, click here.

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