The Importance of Pretend Play- From the Founder of ‘My OT University’

“When children pretend, they’re using their imaginations to move beyond the bounds of reality. A stick can be a magic wand. A sock can be a puppet. A small child can be a superhero” – Fred Rogers

social skills 2

I love watching children engage in pretend play where a doormat can be a space-ship, a toy car can blow-up and a child can be a superhero. Kids engage in pretend play in lots of different ways from teddy tea-parties to role-plays with figurines to mud kitchens in the garden. When children work together and role-play with characters, they have the opportunity to create problems and develop coping skills. As these scripts become more complex; the problem-solving and compromising in play also becomes more complex and they learn skills they will use as a teenager without the actual emotions attached to the real-life situation.

Boredom often fuels creativity in play so the more structured activities you implement with kids at home, the less pretend play a child needs to engage in. Being bored is a part of life and it is in this space that we are left with our own thoughts, ideas and creativity. There is great creativity in a child’s ability to create a game with a story line of their own and characters to go along with it. So what happens when we replace this type of play with single use toys and technology- does this skill disappear? Technology is always going to be a part of their life so how do we get the right balance so different types of play are all part of the routine.

So how can you create opportunities for pretend play at home?

  • Don’t throw out cardboard boxes and allow children to play with them. If they need help, you can give some suggestions or model ideas for them i.e. driving in a car, rocket, spaceship, boat etc.
  • Use puppets especially with younger children. Give them funny voices and express lots of different emotions.
  • Have a dress-up box- don’t get rid of any fancy dress costumes!
  • Props can be very helpful for kids to help develop story-lines especially if they are finding pretend play challenging. Props like a kitchen, vet kits, doctors kit, washing machine etc.
  • Have lots of new experiences which can be incorporated into play e.g. going to a wildlife park, museum, park, bush, beach etc.

It is vital that parents and educators can access information on positive child development so that change can happen in the home and school environment. The My OT University is an online learning platform which was developed to provide information and practical tips and strategies around Occupational Therapy and Child Development. The platform offers an online video series including guest speakers from the fields of Child Psychology, Physiotherapy, Education and Speech and Language Therapy. In addition, members will have access to monthly webinars on topics chosen by subscribers and ‘Let’s Get Moving’ gross motor classes for kids to encourage them to engage in exercise. Join the rest of the My OT & Me Community on

Jessica Kennedy- Occupational Therapist

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