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Why Is Make Believe Play Vital for Development in Early Childhood?

by Shelley Frost, studioD

One minute she's a firefighter; the next she's a turtle crawling slowly across the floor. Make believe play comes naturally to young kids, but it's more than just play. As your child takes on different roles, she expands her understanding and skills in almost every area of development. Encouraging her pretend play helps prepare her for school.

Language Development

Pretend play encourages your child to talk, whether she's playing alone or with others. As your child acts out the imagined scenarios, she incorporates conversations the character might have. When she's pretending to be a doctor, she might say, "We need to give you an examination and shots." She tests out words she wouldn't normally use because they are relevant to the play situation. According to Scholastic, the language she uses in pretend play helps her realize the connection between spoken and written words.

Social Skills

Pretend play lets your little one take on different roles to test out how others might feel. When she plays a teacher, she explores how a teacher feels and the activities she does each day. Seeing the world from another person's perspective develops empathy in children, according to Scholastic. When engaging in pretend play with other kids, your little one learns to share and take turns. The kids learn to work together to act out the story they create together during pretend play.

Physical Development

Make believe play typically involves a range of activities, from rocking her baby doll to running around the yard putting out pretend fires. As your child handles the tasks of the character she's playing, she works on fine and gross motor skills. The fine motor skills come into play when she performs actions like picking up pieces of pretend food or dressing her doll. Gross motor skills are the larger movements she makes with her body, such as crawling around like a dog or leading her pretend gym class in exercises.


Make believe play gives young kids the chance to explore different concepts and ideas for a better understanding of how things work. She is able to try things she sees others doing in daily life. A toddler might try changing her doll's diaper and clothes after seeing her mom do the same thing to her baby sister. Pretend play encourages problem solving since your child often needs to be creative to come up with props and settings. She might fashion a box into a baby bed for her doll. When you use props, such as menus for a restaurant or food packages for a pretend store, your little one sees meaningful print. She might also encounter math concepts, such as counting money at a pretend store, that expand her understanding of numbers.

About the Author

Based in the Midwest, Shelley Frost has been writing parenting and education articles since 2007. Her experience come from teaching, tutoring and managing educational after school programs. Frost worked in insurance and software testing before becoming a writer. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in elementary education with a reading endorsement.

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