Gift the JOY of Play…
All of the costumed visitors that came to play at the Museum this week had me thinking about one of my favorite topics, dramatic or pretend play. I find dramatic play to be so fascinating in part due to the fact that it is universal; research has been done that documents this type of play occurring in communities all over the world and, even cooler, is that it naturally begins to take place virtually like clockwork around 18-24 months of age.
Dramatic play is also an enormously impressive cognitive feat. Think about it, at an age when a child’s primary focus is to make sense of the world around them, the objects and people in it, and essentially learn about what reality is, their brains are able to counter reality and make things be something other than what they actually are! The brains of young children truly are amazing.
So why do all children pretend? Why is this type of play so important? It is well known that one way children learn is by imagining and doing. Pretend play is one of the ways children learn about themselves, their families, and the world around them, and let’s face it, it’s fun! Children learn best when they enjoy what they are doing. However, pretend play is about so much more than creativity and imagination. There are many important skills that children develop as they pretend to be a fireman, dress up like mommy, teach a classroom full of stuffed animals, or fly to the moon. For instance, have you ever seen a child pick up a block and pretend it’s a phone? Using an object such as a block to represent something else actually demonstrates the development of abstract thinking, which requires higher-level thinking skills.
Dramatic play also supports the development of language. Children delight in the adult’s perception of or participation in their pretend play. Through these repeated pretend opportunities, they begin to see the power of language. Recognizing what language can do is an important pre-reading skill. Children learn that words create the story. They begin to see the connection between written words and the spoken word.