Playing Pretend

January 18, 2018
Playing Pretend


  1. Play is connected to children’s learning, more so than direct instruction 
  • When children learn something from experiencing it, they learn it faster and more meaningfully
  • When children are instructed 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


  1. Learning in context is “real” learning and play is the best teacher
  • Play allows children to try out everything with no real life consequences (you can be the villain without getting into trouble, or the baby, the mommy)
  • Rote learning doesn’t represent applicable knowledge (just because you can count to 10 you may not understand that 7 is bigger than 3)


  1. Play helps kids develop self-regulation
  • Pretend play is especially good for children’s self-regulation, because it helps kids practice self-restraint and to voluntarily follow social rules (not hitting, throwing) as well as perspective taking (how does the grandma respond, what does the chef need to clean), communication (how does my mommy talk), and flexible thinking (solving problems, changing roles, new circumstances)
  • By the end of the preschool years, well-regulated children can wait for a turn, resist taking something from another child, help with a difficult task and persist at something they find challenging


  1. Play is one way to promote Executive Function Skills like:
    • 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.
    • 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.


  1. What You Can Do to Support Play
  • Props
  • Costumes
  • Puppets/Dolls
  • Act out new or challenging moments, transitions, events
  • Open ended and unstructured play time
  • Participate in the fantasy play
  • Use books to discuss “off the page” feelings, motivations and plot lines
  • Offer choices whenever possible and within limits

For more information on Executive Function Skills, click here.



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