Pretend play or symbolic play | La Petite Crèche  


Pretend play or symbolic play

What is symbolic play?

From 2 to 3 years old: the child imitates what he sees

The child from 2 years old uses imitation games, role-playing games or pretend games. These are an echo of what the children have seen and heard. They mainly imitate everyday gestures. They pretend to make their dolls drink, to change their teddy bear, to make phone calls... Our little ones will especially imitate mom or dad because the parents are the first models who naturally happen to be there. At this age, they imitate indifferently the parent of the same or opposite sex. These games of imitation allow the child to understand others, to project himself in an adult world but also to repeat the gestures of the everyday life (eating, hairdressing...) and to develop his language skills. These role-playing games allow him to fully embrace life experiences in his own way.


3 years: the imitation game as a support to build one's personality

The process of imitation games becomes more complex for children after the age of 3. We talk about symbolic games. The child begins to invent imaginary scenarios: this is the age of "it seems that", of pretending. His games become more open and other people can join in. Role-playing games become a way for the child to build himself up by projecting himself into various adult roles: the doctor, the shopkeeper, the father... But also to manage situations and conflicts. For example, your child will disarm an unpleasant situation by miming a conflict he had with you. This allows him to manage his frustration. Through these games, the differentiation between self and other takes shape. These symbolic games also allow him to learn how to differentiate between boys and girls and social roles.

The benefits of imitation games

Symbolic play contributes to a child's development because it allows him to develop:

  • His autonomy and ability to take initiatives;
  • Fine and global motor skills: dexterity, coordination of gestures to put the spoon in the cup or facing the mouth of the doll, undressing the doll, putting the lid on, moving objects, moving in space;
  • Cognitive skills: language development, comprehension, decentration, imitation, imagination, conceptualisation of in/out...
  • Social skills: understanding social roles, sharing materials, sticking to a script, listening, taking into account other people's point of view. Assimilation of the rules and codes that govern the world in which he lives;
  • Emotional skills: expression of feelings, self-esteem.

How can you encourage symbolic play in your child?

Give your child free play time where there are no scheduled activities. It is in these moments when the child has enough time, that his imagination will serve him best to invent new games.

Offer him multi-purpose materials (cardboard boxes, rolls of paper towels, sheets, etc.) to give him more room for their imagination (i.e.: a sheet turns into a tent, a cardboard box becomes a house or a pirate ship). Let him create his own world from these objects.

Give your child plenty of time to develop their play and explore the different roles in the scenario. Sometimes he will play the same game repeatedly for a few days.

If necessary, offer him new ideas to get his game back on track. You can formulate your suggestions in the form of questions to encourage his autonomy, for example: "What could your boat be built with?" or "Do you want to invite your cuddly toys into your game? "and "What roles could they play? ». However, avoid taking control of his game. Over time, your child will create his own, more varied scenarios with all the creativity and imagination he is capable of!

If your child is younger or less imaginative, suggest more specific costume items (i.e. an apron, cap, belt). These accessories will help him stay focused in his play and keep his role in mind.

You can also fill a costume and accessory box to inspire your child.

To remember

  • Symbolic play is very important for children's development.
  • For pretend play, toddlers need to have times off during which they can make up game scenarios.
  • If you need to offer your toddler ideas to stimulate play, you can make suggestions, but refrain from taking control over the game.

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