Tips to teach kids life skills through pretend play and role play
Remember how you pretended to be a doctor and asked someone to place a pretend stethoscope on their heart to hear it? As a child, most of us have played doctor and pretended to administer injections, prescribe pills, or been a patient to some other pretend doctor. We have also pretended to be teachers (holding that foot - ruler up like a stick and asking everyone to sit quietly was an early childhood favorite).
As kids, trips to the grocery store, market, post office, airports, coffee- shops and restaurants, and even a visit to the doctor at the hospital, were fertile grounds for our next playtime. Tinker, tailor, soldier, sailor, rich man, thief and cop – we have played them all without knowing that this was teaching us life skills to deal with what comes in our adult lives. Pretend-play meaning young ones emulating actions and conversations that they have observed from adults in their lives may seem a relatively new term but has been in existence as long as time. (Even animals young resort to mock wrestling, mock hunting and hiding and seeking, etc.)
The advantages of pretend play range from social skills and empathy (by negotiating and also role play of walking in the shoes of another), an appreciation for relationships, emotional competence, cognitive development and more.
How can we then foster pretend-play in this day of digital screens?
Observe your child's interests, but also introduce new ideas and items. See what they are interested in but also expose them to new interests. A good mix of old and new is a great way to foster more imaginative play.
You be the playmate. It is not always possible to have peers around. Also, playing with them helps you understand their interests. You can also guide your kid's pretend play a little bit and use them as teaching moments, especially with older kids.
More is not always better. Good quality toys that encourage open-ended thinking and can be adapted to the child’s play interests are the best. Making sure they are the safest ones is your responsibility. Organic materials and lead-free paints are a must.
Keep it simple. It has worked since time immemorial and is the best ways to do anything. A tea party with pretend tea or a cardboard box car with magical powers is a fantastic thing and needs no fancy garnish. Eat a dish pretend cooked with kitchen toys by the kids or enjoy a pretend ice- cream.
Expose them to new ideas. A tea party at home is one thing, but when you move it to a garden it becomes a picnic tea party. Pretending that a tree is a rocket to be launched as you clamber, it is great if you are confined to built up spaces at other times.
Be fun and goofy. Use the saucepan as a hat. Build a fortress with pillows. Make fingernails out of dough. Paint stripes on your face and be a tiger. Fly with newspapers.
Do a role play and let the kids take the lead. You will learn a lot about your child’s interests even as they grow new skills each time.
Do as you wish them to do. Remember, it is you they are emulating and learning from. So as in everything else, do as you wish them to.
The possibilities of pretend-play are endless. Just let imaginations loose and enhance your child’s creativity. There is a world of pretend-play waiting out there to be explored and enjoyed. Just have fun and make some memories along the way. Happy playtime!