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The power of pretending

Playing is the primary way children learn about themselves, their relationships with others and the world around them. Children begin to engage in make-believe play by the end of their second year. Perhaps your little one will pretend he or she is an animal and moo like a cow. The ability to use the imagination in this way is an important sign of cognitive development throughout childhood.

Through pretend play, children learn how to talk, work and get along with others. They learn about their own feelings and begin to understand the way others act, think and feel. This type of creativity can also help them solve problems.

By age 3, your child will likely involve dolls, animals and people in pretend play. By ages 4 or 5, he or she will often include community members like teachers, doctors, nurses, store clerks and firefighters in fantasy play. You can help encourage your child’s fantasy play by:

  • Making space. Designate an area for dramatic play purposes. Set up a housekeeping corner with a child-size table, chairs and kitchen appliances (cardboard boxes work fine) or “make” a veterinarian’s office to play doctor on stuffed animals.
  • Providing props. Give your child old pots and pans, wooden spoons, toy tools, doll cradles and strollers, play money and empty, unbreakable food containers. Assemble a box of dress-up clothes and accessories like hats, shoes, purses and briefcases. Old blankets can become a superhero’s cape. Shop thrift stores and after-Halloween sales.
  • Joining the fun. Let your little one be the storekeeper and you be the shopper. Act out a favorite bedtime story or put on a puppet show.