Children and their imaginative pretend play

Every now and then, little Ayesha picks up her favourite doll and begins talking to her. The doll is called Radha, she goes to school and doubles up as Ayesha’s sister and doctor.

Most children like to indulge in pretend play and will often surprise you with the labrynth of imaginative elements they use to play. Most parents wonder where all this information to feed the kid’s imagination came from.

What you don’t realise is that the kid is like a sponge. He retains all his experiences — even those that happened when he was very small and you thought he did not understand much — in little pockets in his brain, which is then used later in play.

Preschoolers who spend more time in imaginative play are more advanced not only in their intellectual development but also have the ability to concentrate for long periods of time.

Make-believe Play

Make-believe Play [Illustration by Shiju George]

Rethinking time

If your child spends most of his time moving from class to class — dance, tabla, guitar and academic preschool — and you think this schedule will provide the best brain-enriching experience, you might pause to reconsider.

Instead, or in addition, try supporting your child’s imaginative play by offering space, uninterrupted time and props to enhance play.

Adults who are skeptical about play, which looks like a mere pastime, need to do a rethink on the subject. it is one of the most stimulating experiences for children. For, it is important for him to pretend in order to comprehend. This is one of the best ways for him to learn about the world.

Watch your child carefully to understand the learning process: When siblings re-enact a trip to your office, they work together remembering what they experienced, thus building on their memory. In play, they practice and use new vocabulary. Words, which don’t apply to a child’s real-life situations, might otherwise not come up for use.

Other Benefits of Imaginative Play

Social ability: Your child’s social skills — sharing, turn taking, conversing — improve as he works out the intricacies of a play theme with friends or siblings. He also shows definite social skills when playing. Set up a small party and notice how considerate he becomes in this play scene. His interaction with others last longer, are more complex, involved and he is a lot more cooperative.

Emotional strength: By re-enacting episodes involving disappointment, fear, anger or jealousy, your child will learn to understand and manage those feelings. In addition, after engaging in pretend-play involving emotions, he may show an enhanced ability to empathise with others.

Creativity: In the world of pretend-play, children can be anyone and do anything. Predictably, such children always score high on tests of imagination and creativity.

First brush with rules:Play also helps children understand the significance of rules. If you see your daughter putting her doll to bed over and over again, she’s practicing the routine, taking the role of the parent, coming to terms with the concept of discipline. And she also understands that these rules may not be fair most of the time. For instance, if you watch television late at night and do not let her watch her cartoon shows, you are being unfair and she will point it out to you. Don’t underestimate her. She understands a lot of nuances of power-play.

When re-enacting ‘disciplinary’ scenes, your child works towards building her conscience and self-control. When your child tells her teddy bear, “No, you can’t eat another piece of cake, you’ll spoil your appetite,” your child is merely imitating you and thereby relates to the need for discipline.

You can use imaginative play to your advantage too. Having trouble getting your two-year-old dressed ever morning? Slip a sock on your hand and say, “Mr Sock says it’s time to get dressed.” Use your child’s interest in an imaginative world to put a healthy routine in place.

Resilience: Experiences like shifting house, the birth of a sibling, potty training, day care centre or your going back to work may add stress to your preschooler’s life. Pretend-play offers an outlet to release stress and it can your child to overcome his fears and misunderstandings related to changes that are occurring in his life.

Six Ways to Enhance Pretend-Play

  • Play the role of prince when your daughter steps into the role of a princess. Let her be in charge. Try and not question, instruct or intrude on her contributions to the play theme.
  • Allow your child to transform your dining room table into a fort. Let it stay up a few days so the fort theme can develop and extend over time.
  • Go out of your way to bring in playmates closer to your child’s age. Your two-year-old probably engages most effectively in pretend-play with you, but as your child moves into the fourth year, playmates satisfy and support each other’s world of make believe more fully.
  • Try not to interrupt children’s play. If you must take your Batman to the grocery store, let him stay in his Bat suit for the excursion. When it’s time to eat lunch, maybe he can eat in his closet-turned-Bat mobile.
  • When you look for a play school for your child, check out if the curriculum provides for and values pretend-play. Also check whether there is a housekeeping corner, a grocery store, and a block corner. And whether the teachers get involved in children’s play.
  • Play along if your child creates an imaginative playmate. Often, children use imaginative friends as an emotional counterpart: The shy child may create a friend who is brave and outgoing. Therefore, make all efforts to include the friend in all your activities. Go ahead and set a place for him too, at the table, but if your child blames the friend for throwing food on the floor, react immediately but gently.By doing this, you are drawing a firm line between reality and fantasy and helping your child to understand the difference between the two.