Engaging in imaginative role play is critical to children's healthy development. During pretend play, children explore a variety of experiences and skills. Children solve problems and learn to negotiate social situations during pretend play. By assuming and assigning imaginary roles, children are able to safely act out feelings and concerns. They can also take risks without embarrassment or fear of failure and practice the skills they will need and use later on in life. When children create an imaginary environment, they are in control—an important experience for young children.
Children will explore their imaginations with few props, but you can encourage pretend play by providing a variety of spaces and tools. A theater-like space prompts children to perform, especially if you provide costumes and puppets. Dolls, play household and garden items, pretend kitchens, and dollhouses let children act out imaginary scenes or adopt the role of parents, teachers, or older siblings.
Children should be in charge during pretend play, but ask lots of questions and play along to support their active imaginations and inner life. Keep in mind that the adult role in play is to be a monitor of safety and to participate when asked. The child should always take the lead, so ask before you join and enjoy the amazing creativity of your child!
Bergen, D. (2001). Pretend play and young childrens development. http://www.ericdigests.org/2002-2/play.htm
Bergen, D. (2002). The role of pretend play in children's cognitive development. Early Childhood Research & Practice. http://ecrp.uiuc.edu/v4n1/bergen.html