Skip Ribbon Commands
Skip to main content
Family Life

Pretend Play: Ways Children Can Exercise Their Imagination

​​​​​​​Pretend play is a fun way for your child to connect with the people and world around them. Whether your child likes playing with dolls, toy animals, trucks, dress-up clothes or characters from movies, pretend play opens an inspired space. They can reinvent the wheel, step into a new role ​and bring their imagination to life. And while they are having fun tapping into their creative juices, they are also learning how to socialize, strengthening their language development ​and cultivating key life skills​.

Children's imaginations grow quickly during their first few years of life. By leaning into pretend play, you can help them push their creative thinking skills to new heights. Encouraging imaginative play also allows children to open up their internal world​ to you. With every story, adventure and character they create, they are sharing a small piece of themselves. It's a wonderful bonding experience.

​Wondering how to encourage pretend play? These tips will help inspire imaginative fun that brings a wealth of benefits to your child.

  • Use dress-up clothes & props as inspiration


    ​​Play tips: Lean into the world of costumes and props. After all, new outfit, new you. It's a sentiment that holds especially true when encouraging pretend play with your child. By dressing up as a doctor or chef or teacher, for example, it becomes easier for them to fully step into their new role. And, when playing in group settings, different costumes can help children distinguish the roles they play in relation to each other, which makes taking turns easier. For example, when you are wearing the apron, you are the chef and when you have the menu, you are the one eating at the restaurant.

    Benefit: When interacting with you or their peers in an imaginative play setting, children are learning crucial social and emotional skills. Pretend play helps create the foundations for them to understand the importance of teamwork – engaging cooperatively, taking turns and communicating, for example. It's also a great way to encourage children to temporarily step into a plethora of new roles. With each new character, they are learning how to embody different mindsets, motivations, roles and perspectives.

  • Encourage world building and let your kids take the reins


    ​​Play tips: Encourage your child to create an imaginative world and come up with the various roles and rules. Fully immerse yourself in whatever scenario they concoct and let them lead the way. If they need help or ideas, they can turn to you. But urge them to run wild with their imagination. This will help them learn how to effectively express what they want, as well as their likes and dislikes. It's also helpful to introduce objects that can be used in unexpected ways, such as a hairbrush turning into a microphone or toilet paper rolls becoming binoculars. Bowls can become drums and plates can be a ship or a car's steering wheel.

    Benefit: Imaginative play is important for language development. In fact, it's around the same time that children begin engaging in pretend play that many start speaking their first words. When children use one object to stand for another, such as pretending a spoon is a hairbrush, or a tablecloth is a cape, they are thinking symbolically. This type of thinking is key to learning and using language as words also stand for thoughts and ideas. Plus, when playing with parents or with other children, they hear new phrases and words used in a variety of contexts and begin expanding their vocabulary. Coming up with different pretend play scenarios and negotiating the rules with others further reinforces this language development.

  • Use real-life scenarios as creative fodder


    ​​Play tips: Use upcoming events and activities as a springboard for imaginary play. Doing so is a great way to help children develop the confidence they need to navigate real-world situations on their own. Encourage your kids to explore new scenarios with you. Before going to a doctor's appointment, urge them to play pretend doctor to make the visit less scary. Or, before their first day of school, play classroom with them to get them in the right mindset and ease any anxiety they might be feeling. You can even help them learn what to do in future social situations, such as how to navigate a friend wanting to switch roles or play with their toy.

    Benefit: Pretend play helps children feel more independent by letting them dive deeper into their own internal world, giving them a sense of their identity, likes and dislikes. It also helps them learn how to problem solve as they go. Encourage imaginative play and watch your child's confidence grow! Simply using pretend play to "rehearse" scenarios they may experience in the future will help them feel more prepared to handle different situations and allow them to practice thinking on their feet in a comfortable setting.

Last Updated
Adapted from Melissa & Doug: Our Blog
The information contained on this Web site should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your pediatrician. There may be variations in treatment that your pediatrician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances.
Follow Us