Having hard time to think of how to make the playtime with your toddler a blast? Maybe toys have come across your mind- but still you can’t help but worrying if there is any potential hazard, can you?
Cast your worries aside, and engage him in more interactive play- PRETEND PLAY!
Pretend play, which is also commonly known as imaginative, make believe, fantasy or symbolic play, engages children in various experiences and events. Usually, there are three cognitive skills to be harnessed through pretend play, namely using object substitution (using objects as something else), attributing properties to objects (for instance the doll is eating or the hat is flat), and making references to absent objects or places (for example, paying for food with invisible money).
So, how does this form of play develop in children? When children start to behave out of their context, mostly at around 15 months, this form of play begins to develop, taking solitary form (playing themselves). However, between the ages of two and seven, they start to get involved in playing with other children, thus giving way to the development of intellectual, social and emotional skills.
Having understood how pretend play develops in children, let’s take a closer look at how it benefits your toddler in later life:
a. Gives children free rein of imagination
Have you realised that your toddler’s brain can form 1,000 trillion connections by the age of three? Do you know that the more impulses he receives, the more connections that his brain cells will make- and repetition of these connections enables him to acquire thinking and learning?
Essentially, the connections used repeatedly will become permanent in them, while those not used MAY NOT survive. Encouraging your toddler to flex his imagination muscles will compel his brain to form “Imagination Pathway”. Therefore, don’t just spoon-feed them with the tangible visuals about their environment by reading stories to them. Encourage them to acquire “hands-on experience” via pretend play to help boosting their imagination more significantly.
One is the best is to provide them with props for their imaginative play- most of the time the simplest ones will benefit them the most. Don’t drown yourself in crowds just to get them the limited edition Spiderman costume- after all, Spiderman suit will forever be just for Spiderman character. The point is, give them the things that allow them to transport themselves in various imaginative roles, such as hand gloves, hats, towels and etc. Who knows, in the wink of eye, your toddler might astound you with the characters that you might never think of!
b. Help children to acquire language and social skills
Early language development in children, which involves receptive (understanding) and expressive (production), begins right from the moment they become aware of this world. They start to learn language skills since their first 12 months after birth. During the first six months, they recognize and imitate voices and sounds; towards the 12th months, they are able to recognize their own names, obey simple commands and speak their first words.
So, how is pretend play going to help them to develop language? When they play, most of the time with toys and pictures, they are able to understand “symbols” with language. Besides, to make you understand what they are playing, they have to communicate with you- and all these set the stage for them to learn words and speech through conversations with you.
For instance, when your toddler offers you a small cup, presumably a cup of tea, and you pretend to sip it, the small cup is the “symbol” for a cup of tea in real-life. He knows well that there is also no “real” tea inside the cup- what’s more, he knows that you know it too. Therefore, grab the timely chance and teach him how to pronounce C-U-P and T-E-A, and he will be eager to learn about it. Moreover, he learns the etiquette of showing courtesy as well!
c. Helps children to develop empathy for others
Through pretend play, your toddler will appreciate the need to understand others by putting himself in someone else’s shoes- which is a starting point for him to grow empathy for others. According to research, infants (0-2 years old) will have strong emotional attachment with those who shower them with care, and they start to imitate the adults who care for them. It is the precursor of empathy. Between the ages of 3 to 4, they are aware of others’ emotions, and relate themselves to view situations from another person’s perspective. Preschoolers (5-6 years old) learn to read others’ feelings through their actions, gestures and facial expressions, alongside their progress in language skills.
With the help of play props, you can encourage him to play different roles according to their wish, be it, a parent, a doctor, a prince and etc. Play along with him and try to create some scenarios for him react to them. Also, reading him stories regularly helps him to re-enact stories- and this makes him understand others’ perspectives and feelings better.
d. Equips children with essential life skills- problem-solving and leadership
During pretend play, actively spinned in your toddler’s brain are the scenes they are going to play- and lots of self-asked questions will arise. What should we do if there is no one to be the doctor? What should I do make my Furry sleep tight? How should I cook like Mummy for my kids? Such are the instances of questions which prompt him to find solutions, be it by themselves or working together with peers. Don’t forget to give them constructive suggestions when he is at his wit’s end.
Besides, as children immerse themselves in play with others, they will learn to share, take turns, express themselves and even take on leadership roles. For example, when they enact a scenario in school, you might hear this from your toddler: “Let me be the teacher for this time, and you as my student. Let me tell you a story…” This will help him to think for himself what he is supposed to do in such leader’s position, while at the same time, it helps him to gain his confidence and better sense of himself.
Imagination is the father of creativity, thus it makes the best out of man. Include pretend play as one of the elements apart from other learning activities you have scheduled for your toddler. Let them roam free in the world of playing, and build up their foundation with fun!