Pretend play is a wonderful way for children to work out their problems, try out new ideas, and explore imaginative worlds. It is an important part of a child’s intellectual and emotional development, as well as an integral part of cherished childhood memories.
And it’s not just for the very young! We often associate pretend play with toddlers and preschoolers, but I find that it is just as important for older children, who still have big imaginations and often use pretend play as a way to unwind.
Here are three simple tips for encouraging pretend play for your children, no matter what their age. You can also find below great books and music to set their imaginations on fire. Share your tips and resources in the comments!
Disclosure: I was sent complimentary copies of the resources below for review purposes; however, all opinions are my own. This post contains affiliate links. If you click through and make a purchase, I receive a small commission at no extra charge to you.
Encouraging Pretend Play: 3 Simple Tips
Allow for Plenty of Free Time
This seems so obvious, yet it’s amazing how busy our schedules can be, especially when seen from a child’s perspective. If we are exhausted after shepherding our kids through schoolwork, errands, doctor’s appointments, etc., how do we think our children feel? Depending on your circumstances, opening up some free time for imaginative play may be as simple as a change in perspective, or it may mean a more fundamental restructuring of your schedule and perhaps cutting back on organized activities.
With my children I’ve found that they do better if they have plenty of downtime, whether it’s running around outdoors or playing with playdough or Legos. So, for example, in the mornings I make sure they get an hour of free play after breakfast so that it is easier for them to focus on schoolwork. Many children find pretend play a great way to decompress after school.
Provide Open Ended Toys
While my kids love toys with all the bells and whistles, to really encourage pretend play there is nothing better than open ended toys, which are great tools for children to project their imaginations. What this really means is to provide your children with toys that don’t have a set purpose but rather can be used in many different ways, such as sensory bins, building sets, or crayons and paper. Again, don’t put age limits on these toys – I’m always pleasantly surprised at how much my eight year old still loves playing with play dough.
Incorporate Pretend Play into Your Day
Pretend play can introduce an element of fun into your everyday routine. My 5 year old regularly fights off storm troopers while we are at the grocery store, and your child could be a mermaid or a pirate during bath time. Many of our learning activities also incorporate some element of pretend play. For example, when we studied about knights and castles, we did a “knighting” ceremony and made shields and swords out of cardboard, followed by plenty of pretend play as knights!
Pretend play can also be a life saver if you are waiting at a doctor’s office or have a long car drive, though in those kind of spaces you might have to be more creative about what you can do!
Offer Big Ideas for Them to Dream with
A wonderful gift you can give your children is to introduce them to big ideas to excite their imaginations. In a way it is like giving them the vocabulary to dream with, the tools to construct their own imaginative worlds. Whether through exploring other cultures and cuisines, telling them tales from your childhood, or reading from great books together, these experiences of adventure and wonder will spark hours of pretend play!
Below are new wonderful books and music that are sure to expand children’s imaginative worlds and inspire pretend play!
My son loves How to be a T. Rex! In fact, just the other day he was telling me he was scared to go into our back bedroom by himself, when he suddenly stood up straighter and said, “Wait! I’m going to be a T Rex!” and scampered off alone. Thank you, Ryan North!
This fun book is all about a dinosaur-loving kid (a little girl! an African American little girl!) who just wants to be a T Rex, even though her older brother says it’s impossible. Of course, she eventually realizes that being a T Rex also has its downsides, so she comes up with an even more creative solution! And even makes up with her brother when he apologizes 🙂
Pirates are another set of classic characters that kids loved to act out. And now there is the perfect soundtrack! If You Want to Be a Pirate: Songs for Young Buccaneers is a brand new album of original songs from Tam Mason and the Blue Buccaneers. This group performs in costume (see below), often even on ships! This album was inspired by their youngest fans.
We have had so much fun listening to these swash-buckling tunes about parrots, a kindly kraken, and an invisible first mate. I also love that there’s even a song raising the environmental consciousness of young pirates, telling them that thanks to messy humanity you can’t see the treasure anymore because of all the trash.
If you have a pirate lover in your house, you won’t want to miss this album!
Sarabella’s Thinking Cap is a beautifully illustrated picture book for all of the day dreamers out there. I love it because it celebrates those children whose heads are perpetually in the clouds, at the same time as it offers ideas for how to help them function in a classroom setting. Thanks to her wise teacher, Sarabella isn’t shamed for having trouble focusing. Instead, he encourages her to come up with an invention that allows plenty of room for her imagination – and multiplication tables.
Mossby’s Magic Carpet Handbook: A Flyer’s Guide to Mossby’s Model D3 Extra-Small Magic Carpet (Especially for Young or Vertically Challenged People) is perfect for older children. My eight year old adores poring over the gorgeous illustrations and reading all of the detailed diagrams and instructions for flying magic carpets. He says he likes how realistic the book is, “which almost makes me think that it’s real.” This colorful guide covers everything from weather, spotting wild animals, recognizing things from above, and how “not to barf.” Just be sure to take the solemn magic carpet riders’ oath and follow the code of conduct, including only using your magic carpet for good.
This post is part of the blog tour for How to be a T. Rex, so don’t miss the other stops to promote this fun new picture book!
August 20 – Four Violet Reviews – Cooking Dino Grub
August 21 – Bookfoolery – Review
August 22 – The Kindergarten Connection – Creative Instagram Picture
August 23 – MaiStoryBook – Review + Creative Instagram Picture
August 24 – TheReadathon – Review
August 27 – Crayon Freckles – Learning Activity
August 28 – How Useful It Is – Review
August 29 – All Done Monkey – Review + Creative Instagram Picture