While it seems very carefree, what exactly is going on between a child’s ears during their hours of role play? Plenty!
There is probably no activity where young children engage more areas of their brain at the same time than with high quality pretend play. Emotion, problem solving, language and sensorimotor actions are all exercised together, which results in the growth of thicker and stronger connections throughout the young brain.
It’s also good for grownups to know that a strong investment in pretend play such as a play kitchen, parking garage or dollhouse, serves your child in different ways as they mature.
Three year old children play differently than six year old children. They will use the same props, but for different reasons. A three year old is learning the names of utensils, furniture or vehicles, and practices mimicking what they hear from adults.
A four year old becomes the Ruler of their Universe. They create the scenarios and the rules. It’s often more of a social experience that helps them learn empathy and TOM (theory of mind).
The five or six year old often adds some twists and written language into the fun. They make signs, menus, accessories, lists, and labels. They may decide to set up a grocery store or restaurant with prices and money, or create a hospital or school for the dolls.
Pretending is how young children try out and combine the new ideas in their heads in different ways. They rehearse playing a role, whether it is an adult, a child, or an animal. Of course, one of my sons always pretended to be the “Caboose”… but that’s another story.
Live It! Pretend Play: Family & Community
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