The Importance of Make-Believe Play

Written by Karli Steenkamp

Whenever you watch a child play, have you ever wondered where they get their wild imaginations from? In their minds, they can be anything from an ant catcher to an astronaut. Everything is possible. These great imaginations have so many benefits for these growing minds. Make-believe play is strongly encouraged for young children. It is when children role play and take on another character that interests them. They pretend to be someone else and get involved in the actions and things that a person in that role would do or say. They get very caught up in the game and take it very seriously. A few popular make-believe games are superheroes, playing teacher and playing mummy or daddy.

Make-believe play helps children to portray what they are thinking, without even knowing it. We get insight in their thoughts and feelings by watching and listening. Their fears, which they may not know how to communicate, can come out. They get to see the world from someone else’s perspective by “putting” themselves in someone else’s life. They have to think how this person will react, behave or feel in the circumstances that they have created. Exploring the feelings of how one would feel in the situation that they have made, gives them insight in how different people feel different things. This type of play also improves their language by learning new words and phrases. They pick up words from their friends too. Their language becomes richer and they grow their vocabulary.

A child’s development is vitally influenced by make-believe play. At an age where brain development is at its best, it is crucial to promote this type of play. Children are not born to naturally know how to role play. They have to be guided and taught how to do it. Parents and educators need to encourage this, but should at first play with them and lead children on what to do. Give them scenarios to play with until they are confident to magic up their own story. You can provide props to help start the creativity process. A prop doesn’t have to be expensive and it can be something very simple.

The impact that make-believe play has on a child’s social and emotional skills are great. Not only can they learn how to deal with their fears, but they can learn important problem solving skills. They have to imagine what a teacher will feel when the learners are misbehaving or a parent with a child that complains or mess. They learn to have empathy towards others. All these scenarios help them build their self-esteem and they gain confidence because they are in charge of their own game and own feelings. If they are playing with friends, they have to learn to take turns and share. Deciding on what to play can be a huge compromise and their negotiation skill will be put to the test.

Role playing is a great way for parents to model positive behavior. You can give your child a scenario where they are the parent and the doll does not want to brush their teeth. Your child will then have to think of the appropriate thing to say to encourage the doll to brush its teeth using their own experiences as a guideline. Make-believe play also helps with gross and fine motor skills. Playing dress-up helps with their coordination and practicing how to dress them can help their skills in dressing themselves. Dressing their dolls really helps with those fine motor skills.

Make-believe play helps children be creative. It is believed that children that learn to be creative from a young age have better creativity when they are older. In this role play, they make a world for themselves where they are in charge and they feel safe and happy. In doing so, they are actually learning valuable lessons, without knowing that they are learning. You can encourage different role plays and give your child a wide range of experience as different people. Not only will it expose them to these different worlds, but it will be fun too. Encourage children to have weird and wonderful imaginations. It’s physical and emotional benefits are priceless.


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