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The Benefits of Pretend Play

The Benefits of Pretend Play for Children

Has your child ever served you a mud pie? Or made believe that your couch is a pirate ship?

Maybe they enjoy dressing up like a veterinarian and wrapping a favorite stuffed animal in bandages. Or taking over the living room with an entire miniature town made of LEGO® bricks!

These are all examples of pretend play. In addition to being a very fun way to pass the time, did you know that pretend play is important for your child’s development?

At the LEGO Group, we know that children often learn through play, and that includes playing pretend. In this article, we’ll look at what pretend play is, how it helps children of all ages develop important skills and share a few of our favorite ideas and toys for encouraging pretend play.

What is Pretend Play?

Pretend play is exactly what it sounds like: using the imagination to assign roles and actions to symbolic objects or other people. For example, a child may build something out of LEGO® bricks and call it a “dog,” making it act and sound like a dog. The child knows this is not a real dog, but a pretend one.

Children develop different types of pretend play throughout the first 5 or so years of life. These are imitative, symbolic, dramatic, and imaginative. Let’s take a closer look at each of these types of play.

  • Imitative Play: In the earliest form of pretend play, children imitate actions they have seen performed by others around them. For example, they may give a toy bottle to a doll or hold a toy phone up to their ear.
  • Symbolic Play: Children begin to use objects symbolically. They may offer you a mud pie and ask you (to pretend) to eat it, or build a duck out of LEGO DUPLO® bricks and pretend it can swim and quack just like a real one!
  • Dramatic Play: Children begin to act out stories and play roles either by themselves or with friends. These stories tend to be reenactments of things that happen to them in everyday life, like pretending to be a teacher and playing school or making dinner at a pretend kitchen.
  • Imaginative Play: Imaginative or fantasy play is an extension of dramatic play. At this point, children will make up their own stories with settings, characters, and actions that they have not experienced. They may pretend to be someone else or play out imaginative scenarios like exploring outer space or adventuring in a fantasy land.

While pretend play may be more closely associated with young children, older children and teens often play pretend too! They may not play with dress-up clothes or dolls and stuffed animals like they did when they were younger, but they are still building these key skills through other activities like creating art, telling stories, building with LEGO bricks, or playing imaginative video games like LEGO Fortnite®.

Why is Pretend Play Important?

Pretend play is a wonderful way for children to build their creativity and imaginations while also working on critical areas of development. Pretend play helps children of all ages to develop social, emotional, language, and cognitive skills.

  • Emotional Skills: When your child plays pretend, they can safely explore acting in different ways. Children can try out new roles or ways of being. For example, a child who is usually quiet may use a louder voice when playing pretend. Playing pretend can help your child process unfamiliar emotions as well, like anger or sadness.
  • Social Skills: Role-playing is an important way to develop social or relationship skills as well. When playing with other children, your child is learning how to build friendships, listen to other ideas, and make compromises about the progress of the game. Your child can even develop relationship skills while playing alone! Acting out relationships between characters can help them understand other perspectives and practice different behaviors.
  • Cognitive Skills: Even in the world of pretend, conflicts inevitably arise. Whether there’s a storm blowing their pretend ship off-course or a patron at the pretend restaurant doesn’t like their meal, your child will have to figure out how to solve these issues. These are opportunities for creative problem-solving, a helpful lifelong skill. As your child acts out their imaginative scenarios, they will have to solve problems to continue their stories and overcome challenges for their characters.
  • Language Skills: Playing pretend in a group can help children develop important communication skills. They’ll vocalize their ideas, express their feelings, and collaborate with others. Playing pretend can also build their vocabulary. By exploring new topics, ideas, and settings, they’ll learn new words and concepts.

Pretend Play Activity Ideas

The beauty of pretend play is that there really are no limits! All your child really needs to begin is their imagination. That said, toys can really help kick-start their play ideas. LEGO® bricks are a great way for children of all ages to bring their ideas to life. Here are some of our favorite pretend play toys and sets to help you get started.

Build a House with LEGO® Friends Andrea’s Modern Mansion

Teens and tweens will love immersing themselves in building the epic LEGO® Friends Andrea’s Modern Mansion. This four-story toy mansion includes everything you could dream of having in a house: a karaoke zone, piano, yoga area, swimming pool, hot tub, and an elevator to help the mini-dolls explore every level. There’s also an opening garage with a car and a waterfall flowing from the roof to top it all off!

Once the building is done, this splendid house makes a beautiful play-and-display piece. Kids can role-play fun stories and adventures with the 11 LEGO Friends mini-dolls and tons of accessories.

Make Food with LEGO® City Burger Truck

Food is such an important part of our lives, it’s no wonder kids love pretending to make, serve, and order food. With the LEGO® City Burger Truck set, kids ages 5+ can build their own food truck complete with a food prep area, food and condiments, and opening service hatch with a display sign. Two minifigures help them play out the excitement of serving delicious burgers all over the city!

Practice Everyday Skills with LEGO® DUPLO® Daily Routines: Eating & Bedtime

The LEGO® DUPLO® Daily Routines: Eating & Bedtime helps toddlers aged 18 months and up roleplay the routines of eating meals and getting ready for bed – and explore the emotions that can come with them. The set includes two homes, each with a cute animal family of an adult and child. Kids can help the kitten in the red house eat yummy meals and the bear cub in the yellow house get ready for bed! This type of play helps toddlers develop cognitive skills around playing out routines and acting out familiar situations. The kitten and bear cub have double-sided face bricks – one happy and one sad – to help toddlers who can’t talk yet share how they feel. This can help toddlers develop the emotional skills to understand and communicate their feelings about certain situations.

Visit Animal Friends with LEGO® Creator 3in1 Wild Safari Animals

Go on savannah adventures with your favorite animals from the LEGO® Creator 3in1 Wild Safari Animals set! Kids can choose to build a giraffe with a flamingo friend and a tall tree, a mother gazelle with her calf and two bushes, or a lion with a tree and a butterfly. With three building options to choose from, kids will have hours of fun playing with this LEGO Creator 3in1 set. A great gift for animal-loving kids ages 9 and up!

Become a Famous Musician with LEGO® Friends Pop Star Music Tour Bus

Bring musical dreams to life with the LEGO® Friends Pop Star Music Tour Bus! The buildable tour bus opens to reveal a backstage area complete with a bedroom, bathroom, and recording studio with instruments. Kids can help LEGO Friends character Paisley use the rotating mirror to transform into pop superstar Ley-La! The set comes with four mini-dolls and accessories, so kids can act out their own imaginative role-play stories while building social and emotional skills.

Travel to the Stars with LEGO® Space Sets

Inspire young explorers to reach for the stars with LEGO® Space sets for all ages.

The LEGO DUPLO® 3in1 Space Shuttle Adventure is a perfect way to introduce toddlers to the exciting topic of space travel. This set includes instructions for building three different models while leaving room for their own creative builds. Toddlers can take the astronaut figures on out-of-this-world adventures, from learning about the solar system with earth and sun bricks to making friends with a cute green alien. Having different building options available helps toddlers learn to recreate. The set also includes turning cog pieces, a spinning propeller, a wind-up winch, hinged doors, and a light brick to inspire creative building while developing fine motor skills. These pieces add new challenges to the building experience for toddlers and help them learn to keep trying when things don’t always work as planned!

Kids ages 7+ can explore interstellar travel with the LEGO City Modular Space Station. They can design their own futuristic space station by adding different modules to the ring. With docking spaces, a satellite, and room pods including a workshop, lab, kitchen, bedroom, and biodome, they can choose how to build the perfect station for the 6 space crew minifigures. The pods can also be connected into one big space train for more epic space adventures.

The LEGO Creator 3in1 Space Astronaut is a great way for kids ages 9+ to play and learn about outer space. The poseable astronaut has a jet-propulsion backpack for blasting through the stars and a golden visor that opens to reveal a secret seat perfect for a minifigure (not included). Kids can then rebuild the astronaut into either a space viper jet or futuristic astronaut dog! With so many ways to build and play, there is no limit to the adventures they’ll create.

Modular Space Station

Average rating5out of 5 stars

3in1 Space Shuttle Adventure

Average rating4.8out of 5 stars

Mars Space Base and Rocket

Average rating4.8out of 5 stars

Space Astronaut

Average rating4.9out of 5 stars

Build Your Own World with LEGO® Classic Brick Boxes

Free building is one of the greatest joys of playing with LEGO® bricks. Get them started building with the LEGO Large Creative Brick Box, which contains fun pieces in different shapes, sizes and colors. Kids can easily follow included instructions to create houses, cars, and animals, or build their own unique creations! The yellow brick box also makes for handy storage once playtime is over. Need some ideas to get started? Check out some of our inspirational builds.

For younger builders, the LEGO DUPLO® Brick Box is filled with fun and educational bricks. With wheels, doors, DUPLO people figures, and numbered bricks, preschoolers can build anything they imagine.

Brick Box

Average rating4.8out of 5 stars

LEGO® Large Creative Brick Box

Average rating4.6out of 5 stars

Creative Space Planets

Average rating4.8out of 5 stars

Keep Playtime Going

Pretend play is a fun and powerful way to help your child develop and grow. With just a little imagination, kids can make unique creations that are entirely and uniquely their own. Even the cardboard packaging from LEGO® sets can be used for pretend play! You can find more LEGO activity ideas here. And if you’re looking for the perfect set to inspire your child’s imagination, check out our full range of toys for girls and boys!