Pretend play: Tool for language development
There are several ways children learn about the world when they are developing.
One of such ways is through pretend play.
Pretend play involves imagining and doing.
It has a significant impact on the development of speech, language and communication skills.
Children like using their imagination to role-play a parent, a doctor or a nurse, for instance.
When I was growing up, we used to pretend to be mothers with our dolls and may have someone play the role of a father.
In Ghana, most children engage in this pretend play often referred to as ‘maame ni paapa’ (Mummy and Daddy) i.e. when children pretend to be parents.
Children learn by observing, imagining and doing. Nearly every child engages in pretend play of some kind.
A child’s ability to engage in pretend play helps in their developmental skills and these include:
• Language and communication skills
Children often use language during pretend play.
According to research, children who engage in pretend play often use higher forms of language than they would use in everyday situations.
They use words and phrases to pretend to be mothers, fathers or babies.
Pretend play gives children the opportunity to experiment with and learn about the power of language.
Children learn about new vocabulary during pretend play with other children.
In engaging in different pretend plays, they learn words that apply to different situations and use them to communicate.
Their listening skills are also developed when playing.
• Social & Emotional skills
During pretend play, children learn about the world and how to be in someone’s shoes.
They do these by playing different roles.
By learning to empathise, they learn to become responsible and to share responsibility with others and to develop their self-esteem and self-awareness.
Children are naturally selfish but through pretend play, they develop the skills of co-operation by responding positively to the feelings of others.
Pretend play involves deciding on roles with others and working together to achieve that purpose, thereby working collaboratively and developing social interaction skills.
• Imaginative skills
Early pretend play offers children the opportunity to exercise their imagination and to learn how to think for themselves, according to research.
The ability to use our imagination is an important skill needed throughout the lifespan to be able to carry out our daily living such as making decisions, making plans, organising things, solving problems, among others- Life skills.
• Physical development
Pretend play is often physical and helps children to be active, to exercise and to develop their motor skills.
Children develop their gross motor skills, for instance, when they run after each other and climb things.
Their fine motor skills are developed when they pretend to be cooking for the family, dressing the ‘baby’, among others.
To encourage pretend play, you need to play face-to-face with your child.
Get down to the child’s level (i.e., sitting or kneeling on the floor) so that your faces are at the same level.
Follow the child’s interest.
Have a choice of toys (these can include a ball, car, ‘baby’, puzzle, toy phone, toy cooking set, doctor set, etc.) on the floor.
Allow the child to choose what to play with.
Pretend play has several benefits for a child’s development.
The writer is Speech and Language Therapist/
University of Ghana.E-mail: