The importance of pretend play in language development

Friday evening I sat and watched my two youngest children play. They were so sweet as they delved deep into a world of play. And as I sat and observed them I wondered about the importance of pretend play in language development. Play has always been a key component in raising my children with three languages, but whether you are raising your child with one or two or three, the fact remains. Play, and especially pretend play, is a vital element in helping children develop their speech and language. Children watch, listen, explore, imitate and create language with purpose as they play. (See: The importance of play for speech and language devevelopment.)

Why is pretend play is important

The Association for Childhood Education International (ACEI) and the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC), two respected professional associations affirm that play is a necessary for healthy child development and allows children to:

  • make sense of their world
  • develop social and cultural understandings
  • express their thoughts and feelings
  • think flexibly and divergently
  • meet and solve real problems
  • develop language and literacy skills and concepts

(See:  Why Is Play Important? Cognitive Development, Language Development, Literacy Development)

I’ll talk a little more about the language skills I observed as I watched my children play a bit further down.

How you can encourage pretend play as a parent

It’s as simple as allowing children freedom in time, space and with a variety of props to allow their imaginations to come alive, but here are 10 ideas to ignite pretend play.

In addition, how we engage daily with our children can make a positive difference.

Research has demonstrated that parents who talk to their children regularly explaining features about nature and social issues, or who read or tell stories at bedtime seem to be most likely to foster pretend play. (See The Need for Pretend Play in Child Development.)

Observe your children as they play

In the photos below, I observed my children play for about an hour after their evening baths. They read (or pretended to read) books, played with a tool kit, had a tea party, and read more books together. Gabriela is 8 and Rémy is 2. They engaged mostly in parallel play but there was some cooperative play as well. Plenty of language exchanges (both verbal and non-verbal) took place between them, especially when Rémy was not necessarily interested in one of Gabriela’s new ideas for play! Through all of it, Gabriela would practice lots of gentle persuasion and Rémy would assert his right to say no and be his own person! Gabriela would offer big sister explanations of everything they did and Rémy would sing and chant and repeat words associated with their play as well as give simple (but very clear) commands. The sweetest parts were their birthday tea party and Gabriela reading books to Rémy towards the end where both Gabriela and Rémy were willing and eager participants in the separate roles they played.

Do you ever just sit to observe your children play? What language or social skills have you seen them acquire and develop through pretend play?

Also read: What does your child’s play say about their development?

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Comments, thoughts, questions?