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Pretend Play For Children Of All Ages

By Nicole Munoz

Little children have very big imaginations. Make-believe and pretend play are a primary part of daily play for most children. As early as the toddler years, little ones create their own play scenarios. Pretend play and dramatic play typically continue throughout childhood, into the late elementary years and is a vital part of healthy childhood development.

Imaginative play helps a child explore her own feelings and emotions about a variety of situations. Children can overcome fears, like going to the doctor, through pretend play. They can consider all kinds of different career tracks or practice the parenting skills they will use in the future. Children can pretend alone or in group play with their friends. Both solo and group dramatic play enhances language skills, social behavior, problem solving, and many other areas of development.

Most children can play make-believe with a bare minimum of toys and props, but there are a number of items that will make play time even more fun. The best toys to encourage pretend play are those that allow a child to use his imagination to decide the toy’s purpose. Choose safe, long-lasting toys that fit with your child’s personal interests. Provide your child with a selection of age-appropriate toys that promote self-discovery and creativity.

Toddler aged children usually play alone or play parallel to another child who is playing similarly, but will typically not participate in group play. Children this age like to imitate their parents. Ride-on cars and push toys like small vacuum cleaners or lawnmowers not only enhance muscle development, they also encourage toddlers to pretend. Toys that allow children to play house are typically the beginning of many years of dramatic play.

As a child progresses into his preschool years, play becomes much more social. Preschoolers love to play in small groups and their growing language skills can take dramatic play to new levels. At this age most children are still primarily interested in the way life works at home so provide plenty of everyday household type toys. Miniature cleaning supplies, food and kitchen utensils, and child-sized furniture are all ideal choices.

Dress-up clothes, puppets, and soft dolls will also spur a preschooler’s imagination. Provide your preschooler with a variety of art supplies as well. Crayons, paper, glue sticks, yarn, tissue paper, felt scraps, and buttons will allow your child to create her own imaginary toys and props. Dollhouses are also excellent preschool toys for pretend play. The Our House dollhouse includes all the furniture your little one will need to play house with the included family of four.

Older preschoolers and early elementary age children are beginning to explore their communities. Blocks and toy buildings allow children to create neighborhoods and cities in their play. Over-sized boxes or play tents can provide life-size buildings for a pretend community. Children this age enjoy dolls and action figures as well as dress-up clothes and accessories for community figures like the mail man or police officers.

During the elementary school years, children will begin to practice their lives as adults. School-age children have more specific interests and hobbies and place great value on their friends. Small tools and wood-working equipment are great for imaginative play at this age. Dolls, action figures, and all their accessories encourage older children to pretend as well. Provide your school-age child with a selection of science toys, magic kits, and toys specific to a certain profession, like veterinarian instruments and stuffed animals or digging tools and a magnifying glass for an archeologist.

No matter what age your child is, stay involved in his play. Encourage pretend play by asking open-ended questions and remember to follow your child’s lead while you play together. Almost any toy can become a part of make-believe play. Choose a wide selection of toys and props that cater to your child’s individual interests.

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