by Alix Tonsgard

I find dramatic or pretend play to be so fascinating in part due to the fact that it is universal. Research has been done that documents this type of play occurring in communities all over the world and, even cooler, is that it naturally begins to take place virtually like clockwork around 18-24 months of age.

Dramatic play is an enormously impressive cognitive feat. At an age when a child’s primary focus is to make sense of the world around them, and essentially learn about what reality is, their brains are able to counter reality and make things be something other than what they actually are! The brains of young children truly are amazing.

So why do all children pretend? Why is this type of play so important?  It is well known that one way children learn is by imagining and doing. Pretend play is one of the ways children learn about themselves, their families, the world around them, and it’s fun!

However, pretend play is about so much more than creativity and imagination. There are many important skills that children develop as they pretend to be a fireman, dress up like mommy, or teach a classroom full of stuffed animals. For instance, have you ever seen a child pick up a block and pretend it’s a phone? Using an object to represent something else actually demonstrates the development of abstract thinking.

When children pretend to be someone else, they have the experience of “walking in someone else’s shoes.” Through these opportunities and maturation, children will begin to see their world from another’s point of view. It’s a way we as humans can develop empathy.

Dramatic play also supports the development of language. Recognizing what language can do is an important pre-reading skill. Children learn that words create the story. They begin to see the connection between written words and the spoken word.

What are you and your child’s favorite ways to pretend? I’d love to hear about your favorite adventures!

Alix Tonsgard is an early learning specialist at the DuPage Children’s Museum.