If you watch little ones as they play, you will notice that they spend much of their time pretending. Imagination and fantasy are a very important part of early childhood development, and it’s something that toy manufacturers learned long ago. Baby dolls help little girls pretend they are mommies. Kid-size vehicles help little ones pretend they are driving mommy or daddy’s car. From kitchen appliances to lawn and garden tools, children can enter the grown-up world simply through make believe and a few toys.
There are many reason why pretending and make believe are beneficial to young children. Here are just a few:
- Preschool children want to be independent. When they enter the world of make believe, they can do what they want to do and be who they want to be. They can do “grown-up” activities in age-appropriate ways.
- Little ones are often unable to verbally express their emotions—that’s usually what a temper tantrum is all about. Young children get frustrated when they can’t use words to explain their feelings, and a physical release—which is horrifying to parents—is sometimes the only way a child can communicate. Giving your little ones ample time for unstructured play within age-appropriate boundaries, allows them to act out their emotions. It’s a safe and healthy way to process what is going on in their little hearts and minds.
- Children are born with high levels of creativity. Much of that creativity is lost by the time they reach kindergarten. Imagination and fantasy foster creativity and help children to retain their natural creative abilities. You can encourage your child’s imagination in simple ways. For example, a sheet draped over a card table becomes an instant fort or camping tent. Include a flashlight, a few books, some crayons and a coloring book, and your child will be entertained for hours.
- A little imagination can have positive results in your daily challenges. For example, my daughter’s hair was very fine and thin and often a mass of tangled snarls. She didn’t want me to comb her hair—probably because it hurt! It was one of my daily challenges until we played “beauty shop.” I pulled a chair into the bathroom, gave her a purse with a dollar bill inside, and told her she had an appointment in my beauty shop. I called her Mrs. Smith and I won the battle. Whenever we played beauty shop, Mrs. Smith would patiently sit in the chair while I untangled her snarls and even added a few curls here and there. What are some frequent challenges you face with your child? Enter his or her make-believe world and you may find a solution.
- There are many wonderful children’s books that transport children into the world of make believe. So read to your little ones every day and pretend with them. They will grow out of this stage of development too quickly!
Here’s to playing, pretending, and happy homes!