Not a day goes by that my 3 year old is not in character.  Dramatic Play is the one area where all of her knowledge is in use.  She learns by imagining and doing.  The process of pretending builds skills in many essential developmental areas.  It is believed that dramatic play helps kids not only develop a skill, but learn how to use it in life.

Pretending Builds Social and Emotional Skills
When children engage in pretend (or dramatic) play, They are actively experimenting with the social and emotional roles of life. Through cooperative play, they learn how to take turns, share responsibility, and creatively problem-solve. When  children pretend to be different characters, they have the experience of “walking in someone else’s shoes,” which helps teach the important moral development skill of empathy.

Pretending Builds Language Skills
I love listening to my daughter have her personal conversations with herself and others.  I usually hear some words and phrases I never thought she knew!  Pretending helps her understand the power of language. In addition, by pretend playing with others, she learns that words give her the means to reenact a story or organize play. This process helps her to make the connection between spoken and written language — a skill that will later help her learn to read.  She often likes to pretend to do the things that I do around the house.  So I keep a collection of magazines, books, paper, and pencils with her play props and dress up clothes. She uses pre-reading and pre-writing skills to mimic real-life situations. For example, she can “read” to her dolls and stuffed toys, “write” letters, make lists, and even pretend to take telephone messages with a toy phone!  She especially loves to help with the grocery list, which I will discuss another time.

Pretending Builds Thinking Skills
Pretend play provides your child with a variety of problems to solve.  Pretending promotes abstract knowledge and thinking.  The ability to use a prop (such as a block) as a symbol for something else (such as a phone) is a high-level thinking skill. Eventually it will enable your child to recognize that numbers represent quantities of things, and that combinations of letters represent the words she speaks, hears, and reads.

Nurture the Imagination
Consider creating a prop box or corner filled with objects to spark a fantasy world. You might include:

  • Large plastic crates, cardboard blocks, or a large, empty box for creating a “home”
  • Old clothes, shoes, backpacks, hats
  • Old telephones, phone books, magazines
  • Cooking utensils, dishes, plastic food containers, table napkins, silk flowers
  • Stuffed animals and dolls of all sizes
  • Fabric pieces, blankets, or old sheets for making costumes or a fort
  • Postcards, used plane tickets, foreign coins, and photos for a pretend vacation trip
  • Writing materials for taking phone messages, leaving notes, and making shopping list