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The importance of play

The importance of play

Think back to the best memories of your childhood – what do they involve? School lessons on maths? Washing the dishes for pocket money? Or playing make believe with your friends?

Whilst it is important for children to learn academic skills and responsibility, it is equally (if not more) important for them to play. Pretend play (or dramatic or imaginative play) is absolutely necessary for the development of so many skills that will help children develop into well-balanced adults.

When children play, they are practicing real-life skills in a totally natural and motivating context. They are cooperating and negotiating with their peers. They are using their imaginations to come up with a story line, a problem, and then a solution. They are thinking outside of the box if they need a certain prop but don’t have one (think two pirates having a sword fight on their pirate ship). They are using their language and communication skills with their friends or siblings.

But pretend play isn’t all about the elaborate and complicated make believe scenarios like playing pirates or going to space. It starts much earlier, with young children imitating simple, real-life sequences like pretending to sip from an empty toy cup, or putting a doll to bed. From here, more complex pretend play skills develop.

Some ideas for engaging in pretend play with your child:

  • Start simple. Model actions like stirring the tea and having a sip, or cuddling the teddy bear and putting to bed with a blanket.
  • Use familiar routines in play if your child is younger (1-2 years), such as having a bath, getting ready to go out, eating, or going in the car.
  • Have fun and be silly! Make a “worm sandwich” or a “mud milkshake”. The grosser the better!
  • Let your child lead the way and join in on their story line.
  • Play with simple props – there’s no need to spend a lot of money on toys. There’s a lot that can be done with a card board box, empty toilet rolls, and textas!

So next time your child offers you a crayon biscuit, take it! If you have any concerns about your child’s development in play or any other area, consult an occupational therapist for professional guidance.

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