What Is Pretend Play?

princess castle

Make Believe Play

Pretend play or make-believe could be playing with a princess castle or dressing up like a dragon, it could be pretending to be a fireman or a doctor, and it could be imagining you have been transported to an alternate universe.

Pretend play can be defined as the ability to think of an imaginary world and play within it as people, animals, mythical creatures or anything else you choose.

In an imaginary world children can be whatever they choose, and they can make you into whatever they choose as well, especially if you are willing to play along. This creates a space where they are not confined by the limitations of reality, which can be pretty big limitations when you’re not even old enough to go to school yet, and where they are safe to express and explore ideas, fears, emotions and social interactions.

One of the key features of make-believe or pretend play is the use of symbols, children use something to represent something else, and this symbolic thought is the same as we need for understanding language as after all words are just symbols.

Furthermore pretend play is all about non-literal actions this includes substitution or the use of symbols but will also include taking on another role, mother, vet, knight etc, achieving the impossible, such as travelling through space and time or using magic to tidy the house or make a meal and giving inanimate objects real characteristics, such as a talking toy.

Children know these actions are not real, they know they are just playing, and yet that is all part of the fun. Many of us as adults are out of practice but if we start using our imaginations in the same way they do and playing make-believe alongside them we get to connect with them in a whole new way. You’ll get to learn so much about your child and help them build valuable skills they will use for the rest of their lives.

The Value of Imagination

"Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited, whereas imagination embraces the entire world, stimulating progress, giving birth to evolution." Albert Einstein

This is a great quote that gives a wonderful perspective on the importance of imagination, both for children and for adults. Using your imagination is a critical cognitive skill, and like all skills, the more you use it the better you get.

Using your imagination as a child might transport you to enchanted forests or turn you into a chef or a superhero, which are quite possibly not skills you require much as an adult. But it is our imaginations that help us to create new things, bring books to life, allow us to understand other people’s perspectives and help us solve problems big and small. So really we all engage in pretend play a lot more than we think.


Next Up: Why Is Make-Believe Play Important?