It might be a dish towel that becomes a superhero cape. A couch cushion on the carpet that becomes a pirate’s raft on a terrifying ocean of lava. Or a shoebox crammed with ‘borrowed’ items that somehow becomes a small – but suspiciously expensive – grocery store. Every day, it seems, an entire make-believe universe is bubbling inside your toddler’s head.
What might not be apparent, however, is the extraordinary learning and development that is taking place. Whether by pretending to run a store, or teaching stuffed animals their ABC, your little one is learning to deal with the big wide world outside. And for several reasons, this is absolutely crucial…
1. Make-believe boosts social and emotional skills
Let’s say your toddler decides you need a trip to the doctor’s surgery. When they ask to take your temperature, what they’re actually doing is refining their social skills. They are practicing what it might sound like to interact with someone outside of their immediate family – as well as starting to understand how to behave in real-world situations. Developing other emotions, like empathy and kindness, also comes into play here as they assess your condition and tell you how best to treat it. Cartoon animal sticker please, nurse!
2. Pretend play is a safe learning environment
Role play allows your child to take on the world in the safety of their own home. So when your little performer puts on their mail bag and delivers letters to their stuffed animals, they’re copying what they’ve seen in the outside world in order to get a better understanding of themselves within it. They’ve seen postal workers – and are now trying out what they wear, what they do and how they do it in an environment where they feel safe and secure.
3. Play helps with language and numbers
Back to the store and while your little one is totting up the items in your basket (three candy bars, Daddy?) they are building numeracy skills. But they’re also making connections between sounds and objects to expand their vocabulary. Help them name and count items, and they will store this information in their rapidly developing brains, learning huge amounts while simply having fun.
4. Role play develops fine motor skills
When your toddler uses their fingers as ‘scissors’ to pretend to cut your hair, they are strengthening the little muscles in their fingers and building fine motor skills. This is vital for tasks such as learning to write. The more intricate the pretend play – peeling off stickers or unscrewing bottle caps – the more fine-tuned their muscles will be.
5. Make-believe builds that vital confidence
One familiar role-play scenario might be your child playing ‘school’. But when they line up their ‘class’ of toys and start taking attendance, they are putting themselves in total control. This not only builds their confidence as a leader, it gives them the opportunity to think independently and picture being whoever they want to be: astronaut, construction worker, doctor… the sky’s the limit!