The importance of play during childhood has been extensively researched over the years. According to guidelines provided by the Association for Childhood Education International (ACEI) and the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC), make believe play isn’t just a lot of fun for young children, it’s absolutely necessary for normal brain development!
Why is make believe play so critical for the development of the brain? This type of play not only stimulates imagination and creative problem solving, it also helps young children to improve their vocabulary, and sharpen other language skills. Socialization skills such as the ability to self-regulate and control emotions, empathy, sharing, cooperation and collaboration also benefit when children engage in make-believe play with one another. Even gross and fine motor skills, such as eye-hand coordination, often get a boost from this form of play!
The following tips can help parents and other caregivers encourage their children to engage in fun, and safe, creative play.
Set the Stage with Props
One way that adults can encourage children to engage in make-believe play is by having just the right props on hand.
Usually, it only takes one or two key items, such as a hooded cloak, a simple wand, a plastic sword, or even just a funny hat, to be able to assemble a costume that encourages children to dress up and role play as their own imaginary characters.
Dolls, action figures, and themed playsets make it easy for children to be able to use their imaginations to pretend to work in a number of occupations. Activities can be nearly anything, from going to school, to cooking, grocery shopping, uncovering dinosaurs as they work on a construction site or even exploring other worlds in space!
Focus on Saftey
While caregivers want to avoid being obtrusive so that they don’t interrupt children as they are playing, supervision is still important. Children can become very absorbed during make-believe play and become less aware of their surroundings. Take steps to ensure the play area is clear and free of any hazards in order to prevent accidents.
Caregivers should remain in the background, but carefully observing and ready to step in if dress up and other imaginative play becomes too physical in nature.
Additional safety tips for playing dress up, include avoiding masks that obstruct vision. Caregivers should also keep props that have sharp edges, or that are made of dangerous materials, out of children’s reach.
Think Outside of the Box
Another way to encourage children to make-believe is to look for ways to use other types of play in different ways. For example, activities such as arts and crafts or Story Time are not traditionally seen as a way to stimulate make believe play.
The next time that you read your child their favorite story, place the focus on make-believe by asking your child to use their imagination to invent a different ending. When your child is engaged in an arts and crafts activity such as coloring, painting or using modeling clay, you can add an element of make believe to the fun by asking your child use their art crafts to invent a character and use the images that he creates to tell a story about that character’s adventures.
As your child is learning and growing, join in the fun and play with them from time to time to further stimulate your child’s interest and excitement in make believe play!