How To Make The Very Most Out of Pretend Play In The Toddler Years

What can children learn through pretend play?

As parents it is important for us to acknowledge that for a child “Play” is not just leisure but is how they learn.

In a busy world with what seems to be tireless amounts of chores, it is easy to fall into a cycle of giving your child the same toys to play with each day, using the TV as a baby sitter or saying “maybe next time”, “hold on, I just need to finish this first” each time your child comes running to you with underwear on their head exclaiming that they are Captain Underpants requesting that you come play with them.

Of course there are many forms of play and endless ways to engage in play with your child.

Dramatic or Pretend Play is just one way that children benefit from immensely that will also give you a chance to positively enhance their learning experiences, their self-esteem but most importantly it can strengthen your relationship with them.

The Six Benefits of Pretend Play For Toddlers and Preschoolers

    • Pretending:  Just the act of pretending is a learning curve for a child. It grants them with an outlet to role play what they have seen in their world. This helps them learn about how the world works and practice how adults interact.


    • Social Play: Pretend play encourages negotiation, cooperation, and role playing different situations. Pretend story lines and characters, turn taking, sharing are all great skills to learn.


    • Social interaction: Not only does it help with social skills but it encourages a child to put themselves in someone else’s shoes and be empathetic and considerate of others. This gives them a chance to practice behaviour, manners and language that is needed when they interact in real world situations, as well as what behaviour is acceptable in public.


    • Language development: Dramatic Pretend play encourages expressive language that would not otherwise be used by the child.  Often through pretend play withdrawn children can first start to express themselves by acting a certain role.  Further, this gives the parent an opportunity to extend on language skills by paraphrasing what the child has said using more descriptive language and exchanging conversations using expressive language examples.


    • Imagination: Pretend Dramatic Play is a great for showing how imaginative children are. Imagination is an important building block for learning.  It is not only important in childhood, imagination is crucial for life. Just imagine a world without it, we would not have scientists making new discoveries, artists making new artworks, Santa traditions, award winning stories like Avatar and we would not be able to cognitively process these possibilities or examples.

    • Self-esteem: By giving your child complete control in their pretend world and accepting them as a silly character like Captain Underpants you are enhancing their self-esteem. While they use their own initiative to develop story lines, their creative imagination to expand stories and their own personality to choose a character they enjoy, you are enhancing their self-esteem by allowing them complete power in the world & enjoying it with them.



Dramatic Props Make Pretend Play Even Better

Tea sets, cooking utensils, outdoor mud station, play kitchen, plastic food, a cash register, empty food containers, doll houses, telephone, masks, dress up costumes, pretend money, wallets & bags, a pretend shop stand (a car sale, a flower stand, fresh fruit), play tools, toy doctor kit, bandages, toy animals, kids tool bench & building toys.

The Magic of Make Believe in Pretend Play

By accepting your child in their make believe world you give them complete control not only over the game, but over the ‘world’ for that short time, this enhances their self-esteem and gives you a chance to engage in their interests and their blooming personality, share in their enjoyments and it strengthens their trust in you and the world around them.

benefits of pretend play

So next time you are invited to a tea party or a screaming Captain underpants runs past you, go ahead and dive right into that playtime!

Happy Adventures


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Renee has a Degree in Psychology, a Diploma in Counselling, and various study attainments in Childcare, Personality Development, Effective Parenting and Positive Parenting. She is the Author of Adventures at home with Mum and is a hands on playful Mum always looking for opportunities to learn and improve in her parenting.

Latest posts by Renee Peters (see all)

12 Responses to How To Make The Very Most Out of Pretend Play In The Toddler Years

  1. Laughing at the underpants on the head! We went through a Captain Underpants phase with my oldest! Of course, now I’m wishing that I had taken photos…he’ll be 20 this year and I’m pretty sure he won’t be doing it again.

  2. I don’t have lot of space in our home but still I try to do lots of fun pretend activate with my little one. I love this post.

  3. Great list. How about adding #7 to the list – all the motor skill practice. Sitting, standing, squatting, touching, pouring and picking up small objects all are excellent activities to develop gross and fine motor skills in little ones.

  4. I totally agree Ariadne. When a child engages in pretend play, she is actively experimenting with the social and emotional roles of life. Through cooperative play, she learns how to take turns, share responsibility, and creatively problem-solve.


  5. As a speech therapist, I couldn’t agree more with the benefits you outline! I am doing a week on pretend play with food on my blog and would love add a link up to your post! Well said!

  6. I appreciate that you mentioned that pretend play can improve language development. From my perspective, this is a great exercise to help a child learn how to speak what’s on their mind, and develop important conversation skills. This can be especially helpful if the child really struggles with this. And what better place to practice learning how to articulate than in the comfort of their home with a loved one? It’s an ideal, safe situation.

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