What kids can learn from pretend play

The Importance of Pretend Play

As a parent to a two year old and living in an apartment, I am constantly worrying about toddler toys taking over. Every birthday and every Christmas a new influx of toys finds its way into our house, and somehow we make room. Now I also have a newborn added to the mix, and she comes with a playmat, swing and other paraphernalia, so I am getting much more selective about the toys that can stay out for Cassie.

My initial lean towards the ones I considered educational, such as puzzles, books, blocks, shapes and anything she can learn from. But I knew just how much Cassie loved playing with her wooden kitchen and dolls house and there was no way I wanted to pack those away, she could entertain herself for hours with them. I spoke about my dilemma with a friend, who also happens to be an early childhood teacher, and she immediately explained to me that pretend play had so much to teach Cassie, and was just as educational as the other toys I had selected.

Turns out, pretend play is a social skill that kids learn and explore together. Their communication develops through discussing their acquired roles with their peers or their parents. Cassie constantly runs over to her dad and me with a wooden coffee cup in hand and insists we drink her coffee – this is something she has seen her dad and me do on a daily basis, and it is amazing to see how much she has picked up and is able to communicate back to us, without our input. When her friends came over, they would get out the tea set and start having conversations with each other. As my friend pointed out, this was their way of making sense of the world around them and a good way for us as adults to gauge how much of it they understood.

Of course, the boundaries between pretend and real are crossed every day with a toddler, but once again I have started to take these as learning processes. When I catch Cassie with the wooden cake piece in her mouth, I gently explain that we are just pretending to eat cake and it doesn’t actually taste nice. The same goes when she asks for real tea in her cups and wants a real knife from the kitchen for cutting. This is all contributing to her understanding of real versus pretend and has been a big learning curve in itself.

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By having all these props available to her, I love the idea that we are helping Cassie use her imagination and escape into pretend worlds. I can’t believe how much I underestimated the value of pretend play in the first place. She is able to mimic me with her little sister by wearing her own doll in a doll carrier, by pushing her own baby around in a doll’s pram and by propping her up in the high chair to feed. Not only is she learning and developing in the process, but she has a better understanding of the ‘new baby’ mum and dad have brought home and it has made her adjustment to big sister so much easier.

There are so many different opportunities that are presented to kids through pretend play and I know as she gets older, these will just expand. For the moment, she mostly communicates with her dad and I, and plays alongside her peers. But I know as she develops she will start playing and communicating with her peers and they will create games of their own, using their imaginations and the tools we have made available to them through the toys we have in our home.

I have decided to leave the Spring cleanout for another day and to embrace the toys that are overflowing in our living room. The girls are only young once and I wanted to present them with as many opportunities as possible to learn through play over the years. My clean, tidy, living room will have to wait for another day.

Felicity Frankish


Felicity Frankish

Felicity Frankish is married and a mum-of-one to a little girl, living in the suburbs of Sydney. Having worked with children all her life and also having a great a love for writing, Felicity combined her two passions when she was on maternity leave and set up her own parenting blog: The Baby Vine. She survives day to day on coffee, loves keeping busy, and enjoys getting out an about on her...

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