When people think of play, they automatically think of children engaging in physical exercises such as tag, ball games, or playing on slides and swings; in other words, kids exploring their physical environments. Play has been shown to be a key component in development in a child’s early years. Even the United Nations High Commission for Human Rights has recognized it as a right for every child! But although physical play is the first thing that comes to mind, this is not the only kind of play. In fact, there is another type of play -imaginative or pretend play- that has caught the eye of many researchers, educators, and psychologists because of the many benefits it may provide.

According to Laura E. Berk, renowned professor and researcher in the field of child development, imaginative play stimulates the senses and generates opportunities for exploration and creative thinking that can help your little one improve various language, emotional, social, and cognitive skills; including creativity, impulse inhibition, and empathy!

At what age does pretend play start to emerge in children?

According to research, imaginative play emerges when your child is around 12 to 18 months of age. In fact, by the time your little one turns 18 months old, you will begin noticing behaviors such as trying to feed a doll with a spoon, or picking a block and bringing it to her ears as if it were a phone. Although early forms of pretend play are mostly solitary, by the time your kid turns 2, you will notice that she enjoys the company of her peers. Play allows children to develop their imagination, physical agility, cognitive prowess, and emotional strength. It is through play that children at a very early age learn to interact with people and understand the world around them.

But what can parents do to promote imaginative play?

Research has shown that, for example, parents who read stories at bedtime, or those who talk frequently to their children by describing and explaining everyday actions, objects, events, nature, and people, are the ones who encourage pretend play the most.

If you want to encourage pretend play in your little one check out the following tips:

  • Stories: Invite your little one to tell her favorite story or ask her to imagine her own ending or twist to the story. For instance, you might want to try and ask her questions like: “What do you think will happen next?” or “What if the boy can’t find the treasure?”
  • Toys: Make sure your little one has frequent access to toys, dolls, or stuffed animals. These don’t have to be bought in a store, you can create them out of household items, such as socks or show boxes! Through imaginative play, children tend to easily assign feelings to the objects or toys, which is a great outlet for them to express their thoughts and ideas.
  • Toy boxes: Create a box or a bag filled with materials that correspond to a particular theme, for example: a restaurant box, or zoo. Have several different materials and you will see your toddler take her creativity to the next level.
  • Make time: Pretend play doesn’t fit into time 15-minute segments. Try to keep acting the new story your little one created for a few days, so she can explore and enhance her creativity. Keep in mind that no material, environment, or story can take the place of uninterrupted time to play and explore ideas!

So next time you see your children engaged in pretend play, don’t rush them into other activities, allow them to play, it’s time well spent!

Here’s a Kinedu activity you can use to encourage pretend play with your little one: