Children learn so much through role playing and imaginative play. Without restricting rules or predefined characters, learn the many benefits of toddler pretend play.
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My toddler has been subjecting Morris the Monkey to eat play dough “sweet potatoes,” complete with a bib he insists the poor monkey wear. He’ll also tear the play dough into pieces, just like how his mom and dad dice or mash his food for him. And of course Morris’ meal isn’t complete without a cup of milk and water to wash his meal down.
What is toddler pretend play?
Toddler pretend play is, in its essence, your child’s imagination at work.
It’s when your child uses other objects to represent other items, such as using a stick for a fork or a kitchen bowl as a helmet.
It’s also role playing and imagining himself and other people or objects in other roles. He’s a superhero rescuing others from evil villains, or the chef in a pretend kitchen. It’s his stuffed monkey as his confidant, or he and his little sister as teacher and student.
The benefits of toddler pretend play
Pretend play allows children to role play scenes that are interesting to them, whether it’s re-enacting a favorite television show or book, or pretending to be the doctor after recently visiting one himself.
Through pretend play, toddlers can experiment with decision making, especially when nothing is truly set in stone during play. They develop standards for how to behave during certain circumstances, and they also develop social skills, even when they’re playing alone.
With my son’s imagination chugging along, he has entered the world of pretend play, and I couldn’t be happier. Let’s take a look at these benefits of toddler pretend play:
Toddlers can better understand life events
Kids are able to act out and better understand events that happen in their lives. My toddler has since been pretending that it’s time to go to Morris’ house. “What are you going to do at Morris’ house?” I asked him.
“Eat snacks,” he promptly responded. That he continued to act out a situation like the morning routines—with snacks and everything—isn’t too much of a coincidence. He may be acting out a common occurrence in his life (getting dropped off instead of staying at home).
Whether regular scenes such as a morning routine, or more detailed and exciting like a trip to an amusement park, kids are able to better understand events in their lives by pretending about it.
Toddlers regain control
Imaginative play also allows kids to regain some of the control that feels lost in the World of Big Adults. The fact that my toddler can decide what Morris eats and how much, as well as spoon-feeds and offers Morris his cup of water helps him feel like the adult.
Now, as the “bigger” person, he has the say on all matters.
Imaginative play can help kids in situations where they feel particularly vulnerable and emotional. My toddler had to visit the doctor for a checkup. During play time, he became the doctor to his “patients” to ease with the uncomfortable feelings of being probed and examined.
Through pretend play, toddlers can reverse the roles they may feel vulnerable in. Now they are the ones making decisions during play, regaining some of the control they may feel they’re losing. A child going through the difficult transition of moving to a new home will pretend to pack his belongings to bring it to his pretend new house.
Toddlers develop an imagination
At the root of pretend play is the robust imagination that toddlers come well-equipped with. Pretend play knows no limits. Kids are able to be and do anything they want, from fighting crazy monsters to blasting off into space.
This explains why my son has morphed his desk into a rocket or used a piece of cardboard as his “laptop.”
Encouraging toddler pretend play boosts and reinforces their imaginations. A desk converts to a rocket, a playground into a house, or Lego into pasta (yep, apparently Lego looks just like pasta).
Toddlers can “live through” their pretend toys
As my toddler protested against taking his nap, did imaginative play come in handy. As he sat crying on my lap with Morris in tow, I asked him, “What do you think Morris wants to do right now?” And he responded, “Play in the living room.”
We then held a conversation with Morris. I explained how sad Morris must feel that he can’t keep playing in the living room. Then I mentioned how resting would make Morris stronger. Better yet, once the nap is done, both Morris and my son can resume their game.
My toddler sat listening to me explaining why “Morris” had to nap. Only then did he calm down enough to agree that a nap will be okay, especially since Morris gets to play right after. He channeled frustrating emotions in a play scenario and shared the burden with his fellow toys.
Rather than face the world on their own, toddlers use pretend play to channel their emotions through their toys. This is why playing puppets with children can reveal so many nuggets we may not realize. Kids feel safe sharing their feelings when it seems like someone else’s, even if that someone else is a toy.
I’m excited to see my toddler use imaginative play to understand emotions and strengthen his imagination. Plus, it’s just so darn cute watching him play his animals, even feeding them “sweet potatoes.”
Do you struggle with finding time after work to play with your kids? Join my newsletter and get my play ideas calendar, perfect for the early evening hours! The first sheet includes ideas for the weekdays, while the second is a blank template to fill with your own ideas. Download it below—at no cost to you:
Get more tips about toddler pretend play:
- How to Be Awesome at Playing with Your Kids (Even if You Don’t Like It)
- The Benefits of Open Ended Play and How to Encourage It
- How to Encourage Your Child’s Imagination
- Are Toy Guns Ever Okay?
- Encourage Independent Play with Your Child
Tell me in the comments: How has imaginative play helped your kids? What benefits of imaginative play do you see in your family? How do you encourage toddler pretend play?
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