What is pretend play?

Have you ever seen your kids naming and playing with dolls as their best friends? Or pretending to make a phone call with bananas? They are actually playing pretend games -- using one object to represent other things. 

Also known as imaginative play, creative play, or make-believe play, pretend play is much like its names, it's conducted under kids' imagination and creativity. In kids' little minds, they can see one object as something else by giving them roles and motions. 

Do you know when kids start enjoying pretend play and how they develop through this process? Let's see the following age line. 

kids with stuffed toys

18-24 months 

Toddlers actually start their first pretend game earlier than you have noticed. Looking at and listening to you, they are trying to observe your sound and behaviors, then they imitate through acting out some simple actions, such as knocking on the door, waving goodbye to friends, or even making video calls on phones.

Apart from some simple actions, at this stage, their little minds start to learn "symbolic thinking" or "representational thinking", which means using one item to represent other subjects. For example, they may see a lollipop as a microphone to hold in hand and sing loudly. 

Additionally, toddlers may play with their dolls or stuffed animals as if they are really alive. They help the dolls get dressed, feed them at mealtime, or hold them to sleep. They see them as their good friends or even give them roles to act out. Enjoying fun time with dolls, they gradually develop the cognition of friends, family and relations.

2-3 years

At this age stage, kids develop more complex symbolic thinking. When kids are 2 years old, they may need actual objects to help them recognize things, for example, we need to show them a real telephone to help them develop the concept of phones. But when they are 3 years old, they become more imaginative, they grape the idea of phones and they can use other objects as phones to play pretend games, for example, they pretend to make a phone call with bananas saying "Ring ring, I'm calling from my banana phone". Their imagination gradually narrows the gap between what is real and what is pretend. 

3-4 years

With stronger curiosity and imagination, kids are provoked to create a full scene when enjoying imaginative play. Not just simply meddling with pretend play toy sets, they can play out a story with rich acting roles. With dinosaur model toys, they go back to the Jurassic period, different dinosaur tribes are facing fierce battles for food or territory. With construction car toys, they become little constructors with cars and tracks, they can build and direct cars freely with their imagination. With dolls and food play, kids turn to be house hosts to invite friends coming by for tea parties. 


Is pretend play beneficial to kids

doctor pretend gameThe answer is definitely yes. It seems like they are just enjoying simple games, but actually, the process is much more complex. When having fun with make-believe play, they use their imagination to develop different essential skills simultaneously. 

Language and Interpersonal Skill 

Pretend play is a great game to get friends and family members involved with kids. When we gather together, we need to express ourselves and communicate with others using language. So, there comes the chance for kids to learn words organization and practice oral skills. Additionally, when they experience different characters in imaginative play, they learn to consider from others' perspectives--empathy. Playing stuffed toys with peer friends, kids can gather together to hold a tea party, imagine a scene and talk together. This can be a reflection of their life and experience.

Problems-solving and Cooperation 

We cannot assure everyone can get what they want, this situation also happens in games. All kids want to be superheroes and are less likely to be evil villains, and there comes the conflict. When this situation happens, kids should learn to think and communicate to solve the problem, take turns to be the hero? Or make decisions through a little game? In this process, they learn to cooperate and negotiate, therefore their problem-solving ability gets to develop. 

Creativity and Inspiration 

Pretend play gives kids a safe space to set free their imagination. They can create exciting stories with different characters, even scenes that they cannot experience in real life. With kitchen toys, they become famous chefs to make delicious meals or bakers to serve sweet cakes. With military base sets, they are little generals to construct army bases and conduct battles. 


How to encourage pretend play

how to encourage pretend play

Arrange playtime and playmates 

Playing with friends or parents can better provoke kids' creativity and imagination. Help them arrange playtime and some peer playmates, give them a chance to develop their social and interpersonal skills with their creative minds. 

Encourage kids to take the lead

When we are playing with kids, try to let kids think and take the lead. Following the manufacture guide, we can surely build a fancy castle with magnetic tiles. But won't it be better to let kids create their special buildings? Encouraging kids to take the lead not only can cultivate their creativity, but also helps build up confidence and self-esteem.

Engage kids in daily housework

Encouraging kids to get involved in some light housework is a great way to conduct pretend play. Most pre-school-age kids are interested in cooking, for the magical ingredients and delicious food. In the kitchen, they become little assistants to help you prepare food, measure ingredients, or set tables. For younger kids, kitchen sets are highly recommended for you!

Toys and Games

Pretend play sets or some games can help kids better immerse in their imaginative world.


Checkup games with stuffed toys

check up games with stuffed toys

Kids can get to experience being doctors through playing checkup games. With this doctor kits, they try to look after “patients” and show sympathy for the weak. If you want kids to learn kindness and empathy, checkup game is a great choice!


Build a castle


It seems like all kids around the world love building castle with blankets and pillows. They imagine protecting the castle from evil invaders, sheltering from creepy monsters or camping in the forests. Blankets and pillows are easy to collapse, why not provide a tight and strong “castle” for kids? This colorful tent can definitely meet your need.


We all try to spare time to have fun with kids, but do you know why should we play with our kids? Click here to see the benefits of playing. 

Toys blogToys bloggerWhat is pretend play?

Leave a comment

All comments are moderated before being published