Children love to play and have fun. The more fun they have with pretend playing, the better they’ll learn to talk.Whether it’s play with bricks or with sand and water, or dressing up in grown-up clothes, children are learning all the time.
Knowing why this is important makes joining in and helping your child’s learning even more fun.
Why is pretending important?
When your toddler offers you a cup of pretend tea from a miniature cup, and you pretend to drink it, nobody is fooled. He knows as well as you do that there is no real tea in the cup. What’s more, he knows you know.
The cup represents a real cup of tea, and the situation is like a real-life action he’ll have seen. It represents, or symbolises, one person giving a cup of tea to another.
The word cup is a symbol that stands for a real cup, just as the child’s toy cup does. Toys are symbols, so are pictures and so are words.
When you play with him, you’re helping him learn that. This helps him to develop his language skills because language is a sophisticated system of symbols.
How can I help?
You can help by making sure he has the right kind of toys to play with, and most of all by joining in his play with him.
Start by watching what he is doing. If he’s a small baby he may be looking closely at one object, feeling it, mouthing it. If so, let him have one thing at a time to investigate.
He doesn’t need a cot full of stuff, however pretty it may look to an adult. He can only think about one thing at a time, so let him have one thing at a time. When he’s bored offer him something else. This makes sure he isn’t bombarded with too many things at once.
When he starts to play with two things at a time, by putting bricks in boxes and banging his rattle on his cot, let him enjoy himself. This is the next step on his journey.
Join in with him
Soon you’ll start to see real ‘pretending’ as he uses a toy teacup to pretend to drink. At first he does these actions to himself, but then he’ll offer a ‘drink’ to teddy or brush dolly’s hair.
Now you can see that teddy is like a real person to him. He might kiss him, wash him, and start to reproduce aspects of his own life through his play with a teddy or a doll. You can enjoy doll’s tea parties together, or you can bath teddy and dress him before putting him to bed.
By the time he’s three he’s likely to carry out whole sequences of pretend play.
Above all, have fun with him. This kind of play is for anyone. Even relatives who ‘don’t know how to talk to children’ will love to join in tea parties, in dressing dolly games and in pretending to bath teddy and put him to bed.
You can be sure that this is helping him to learn language skills that will benefit him for the rest of his life.