Pretend Play

Pretend Play

Pretend Play

Date posted: January 14, 2016

Young children learn by imagining and doing. Pretend play (also called dramatic play, imitative play and symbolic play) involves:

  • Role playing everyday activities or situations that children have observed
  • Creating imaginative activities based on children’s knowledge gained from books, movies and other sources
  • Retelling or re-enacting stories they have heard
  • Singing action songs.


Pretend play benefits children in by giving them practice in a variety of skills, including:

  • Social/emotional: acting out roles, playing cooperatively and taking turns, being empathetic and considerate, exchanging ideas
  • Cognitive: organizing and expressing ideas, understanding and practicing the use of symbols, exercising creativity and problem solving
  • Language: asking and answering questions, using language appropriate to the role they are playing, explaining what is happening, practicing using text
  • Physical: using large and small muscles to put on costumes and manipulate props.


How can parents and other adults can support this type of play?

  • Letting children lead the way. This type of play is most effective when the child directs the play.
  • Play-acting with them, as a supporting character. (For very young children, parents may want to model pretend playing, such as pretending to be asleep.)
  • Providing imaginative play materials. This can include: cardboard boxes, clothes or costumes, cooking utensils, stuffed animals and dolls, fabric, theme-based materials, paper and pencils.
  • Stimulating ideas by reading or telling stories, singing songs and taking them on outings.


For ideas for dramatic play for toddlers and preschoolers, browse our Let’s Pretend activity sheets, developed for this year’s Family Literacy Week.

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