EducationHow Pretend Play Can Help Children’s Literacy Skills

September 4, 2021

You’ve seen it all before: a child clomping around in shoes to emulate what they think an adult does, twirling around with friends in fairytale land, or hosting an intimate gathering with their plush-toy friends. You will find your child spending much of their time in the land of make-believe, and it’s easy to dismiss the immense value they carry in their life.

Play is part of the evolutionary culture and an essential aspect of your child’s health and development. It may seem somewhat farfetched, but it can prepare them for the complexity of everyday life, improve overall brain structure and promote healthy interpersonal skills amongst other things. This applies to several areas of development as well, literacy being one of them. Play and learning are intricately tied as skills are developed, nurtured and honed in a fun, imaginative way.

Discover more about imaginative play and learn how it supports your child’s development of literary skills.

What Is Pretend Play?

Imaginative or pretend play is a method of play that allows children to experiment with different roles, acting out various plots and tasks. It creates a safe space for every curious child to express their feelings and emotions as they make choices and discover the consequences of their decisions.

Pretend play is make-believe. It involves imaginary games or dressing up as characters – anything from building a fort with a heavy blanket to brandishing their toy sword as the white knight who slays the scary dragon. It is quirky yet endearing, simply because they conjure up thoughts and scenes that are out of the ordinary.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) defines imaginative play as “an activity that is intrinsically motivated, entails active engagement, and results in joyful discovery.”

Pretend play is your child making sense of the world around them in their own language.

The Relationship Between Pretend Play and Language

The connection between pretend play and language may seem abstract at first glance, but it’s far from it!

Pretend play, also known as “symbolic play” involves the use of symbols, where an act or item stands for something else. When children engage in imaginative play, they’re often using an object to represent another. For instance, they may tie a tablecloth around their shoulders and pretend it to be a cape. This form of symbolic thought is reflected in our use of language, as words are our symbols. Our words stand for our thoughts and ideas, similar to how children use certain objects to represent something else.

Beyond having the same underlying ability to represent things symbolically, researchers discovered that children engaged in imaginative play would often use higher forms of language than they would use in typical situations. The most complicated grammatical and pragmatic forms of language appear first during play as the activity stimulates children’s language development, more so when they’re pretending to be somebody else.

Furthermore, your child may require reading and writing skills to better support their various narratives. For instance, baking pretend play may be the entry point for your child to learn the different types of baked goods and even baking techniques. Besides reading up on recipes, they may also write the names of these pastries and cakes on tags to turn their play area into a bakery display counter. Eventually, this will give your child the motivation to learn reading and writing for age-appropriate purposes.

Encouraging Pretend Play at Home

The best way to support your child during this experience is to take on their role and play like a child yourself! Doing so will stimulate your child’s pretending skills and language, and the two of you are sure to have fun in the process! Here are a few tips you may want to incorporate whenever you play with your child.

Face your child: Whenever you’re playing with your child, you will want face-to-face interaction with them. It will allow them to feel more connected to you and also be able to clearly see and observe your face, gestures, and pretend actions. This will further stimulate the story and their thinking.

Observe your child’s interests: Once you’ve laid out a few pretend toys, sit back and watch your child pick out the toy that sparked their interest. With the toy that they’ve chosen, enter their imaginative world and follow their lead.

Imitate your child’s pretend actions: Notice every pretend action that your child does and do not hesitate to imitate them. If they see that you too are invested in their make-believe, your child will be more motivated to continue. This will be an excellent opportunity to introduce something new. For instance, your child may be cooking up an imaginary feast. If so, you may pretend to help them out as a sous chef. You can also throw simple questions related to the play to stimulate their interest and thinking.

Ultimately, pretend play is a mainstay in your child’s development. However, it’s not the only way you can stimulate the development of their literary skills and other cognitive and developmental skills. MindChamps Early Learning & Preschool curriculum offers a nurturing environment for your child to learn and explore as they develop their linguistic skills and more. Book a visit to our centre to find out more!

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