Why is Pretend Play Important in Early Childhood?

Girl Reading Under Tree
Girl Reading Under Tree

This article is to share some insights from my perspective on why pretend play is important for children in early childhood.

As a mother, grandmother and an early childhood educator with fifteen years in the industry, I have observed many positive aspects of pretend or dramatic play.

We all know that children enjoy pretending, but what are the important things that they gain from it and what forms of play are they involved in that trigger such responses?

Peter Pan
Peter Pan

Early Literacy

My own children  find great value in books and have developed a such a real love of their favourite stories over time, that they have begun to nurture the same in their own children.

I often wondered what is was that had them return to the same story time after time, and why even in adulthood they spoke of them with such fondness.

I believe now, after observing them interacting with, and sharing these with their little ones, that they had connected with the story, the characters and sometimes the humour and nonsense words and rhymes.

These stories had an impact on them, and they wanted to share the magic with their own children while reliving it themselves.

What was your favourite as a child, do you remember?

Let me tell you why I believe this.

One of my daughters favourite stories is the classic  Peter Pan. When my grandson was very young, my daughter read to him constantly.

When he was a little older, his room resembled a scene from the book, or from my daughters imagination. Her perception of it anyway.

It was magical and inspiring. A wonderful place for a little boy to play out his fantasies, with a tee pee in the corner surrounded by imitation vines and his favourite soft toys inside.

While playing together they took on the personas of the characters and recreated the story in their own special way.

This is more common than you think and while working with preschool aged children over time, I noticed similar behaviour.

Girl Under Toad stools
Girl Under Toad stools

 Young children, are exposed to storytelling through:

  •  text -books and comics
  • orally/audibly -listening and hearing
  •  visually-through television and movies
  •  or in more recent years digitally -i pads and smart phones

It is a place for children to  escape their reality and take refuge in a world of make believe.

They become the characters and act out the parts that have meaning for them.

By doing this children are beginning to form an understanding and recognition of print and its uses, and  the ability to share information and ideas from these through representing it in their play.

It is entertaining and they enjoy acting out stories, retelling them in new ways with their own twists and sense of humour.

They are also developing the ability to  express themselves in meaningful ways and to use their imagination.

Boy in Workman Hat
Boy in Workman Hat

Social and Emotional Development

Fairy tales and superheroes

These are always a favourite with children and provide opportunities for some great character building learning experiences.

Little princesses and super heroes like Spiderman are among the most popular scenarios, and can sometimes cause friction between children.

They believe they are are the characters they represent so in their minds, how can there be two spidermen? Princesses asserting themselves in their role, (you all know what I mean). These things can cause conflict and hurt feelings.

Rather than stop the play, it is better to use this opportunity to incorporate some ideas that will help children with things like:

  • seeing another’s point of view
  • life lessons and moral concepts
  • self regulation
  • leadership
  •  empathy for others
  • rules
  • fairness
  • turn taking and sharing

Another way that children’s play can be supported and their learning enhanced is to introduce the concept of real life heroes. Firefighters, police, family members and characters from history or local legends.

The focus on these individuals can impact on children and help them to aspire to be like them and to gain insight into the qualities of real heroes.

It then becomes a lesson that supports the development of children’s sense of identity and family connections.

They are gaining an understanding of  the wider world and society in a community context.

All of these experiences are teaching children how to engage with each other in a collaborative exchange and supporting social and emotional growth.

Outdoor Fairy Tea Party
Outdoor Fairy Tea Party

Creativity and Imagination

Children  enjoy making up their own stories and elaborating on others. They use dramatic play as a way to express their imaginative and creative thinking.

Children love to make up nonsense rhymes and songs. they experiment with language and acquire a deeper understanding of it.

They create and use props such as masks and puppets to share their messages and stories.

Building and constructing  things that represent their own personal views built on their understanding.

It is important to allow children to use this creativity to be expressive, solve problems and work together to develop new working theories and test them.

Boy driving Vintage Bike With Sidecar
Boy driving Vintage Bike With Sidecar

Real Life Scenarios

The world of dramatic play is not limited to fantasy alone.

Most pretend play is directed at everyday real life experiences, such as looking after babies, shopping, driving going to school,  doctor or  work. They might be catching a bus or going to church.

It is not just what happens within the home but the wider social circle of children’s lives. Here is their opportunity to show others what they have experienced and share their knowledge and skills.

Whatever children are exposed to in real life, they will act out in play. Sometimes this can be quite humorous, but demonstrates how children view the world.

On one occasion a three year old in our centre had recently attended the birth of her new baby brother.

For weeks after she would walk around with a doll tucked under her shirt and lay down, pretending she was in pain, then pull the doll out and cradle it in her arms.

This became quite a popular scenario for a while, with even some of the boys giving birth to our dolls.

Upon asking the children why they thought boys had babies, I was surprised at the matter of fact answer that it was because they were Dads.

This type of role play among very young children is often accompanied by constant narration and these conversations help us to understand children’s interpretation of the world around them.

How do we as adults support this play?

  • recognizing and nurturing our future leaders and problem solvers,
  • offering language to help them express themselves,
  •  encouraging them to share their ideas and knowledge with others through their role play.
  • providing them with new ideas and knowledge to build on
Bear and Boy in Forest
Bear and Boy in Forest

In Closing

Children are still quite brand new to our world and we can sometimes overlook the fact that they are seeing everything for the first time.

They not only want to play but need to as part of developing an understanding of their world and the world around them.

They are trying to work out how relationships work and to build on their existing knowledge. This is a time for them to try and test the things they do understand along with what they are still discovering.

By exposing them to new language and providing them with the freedom to explore, we are supporting the holistic view of the child and nurturing the whole child, socially, emotionally, physically spiritually and cognitively.

We are helping to grow well rounded little people with a balanced view of the world and the tools to become lifelong learners.

Thank you for stopping by and I hope you enjoyed this post.

Can you see the benefits in dramatic and role play for children that you may not have noticed before?

If you found this article helpful and would like to read more there are several posts on my page that you may like to take a look at.

Please feel free to leave a comment below and let me know what you think.

Thank you


Founder and CEO of The Treasure Baskets






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