How to

Why ‘pretend play’ is important for children to learn to read

Have you ever tried to stop children from using their imagination? It’s one of the hardest things in the world to do!

But children are not the only ones that use their imaginations regularly. Adults do too! We use it every time we solve a problem, have an idea, enjoy reading, watch a movie, make plans or understand something from another person’s point of view. If you think about how often we do these things in a week, then you’ll understand why imagination is a key life skill! This is one good reason to encourage your children to use their imagination.

And here’s another reason: when children play “let’s pretend” games, they learn to use symbols. This means that they learn how to use one thing to stand for another, for example: your child uses a spoon as a “pretend” phone, or a plastic plate placed on your child’s head acts as a crown. In books, words are symbols for thoughts and ideas. So, through playing “pretend” games, our children develop an understanding that is essential for learning to read.

Here are some ways you can encourage your children’s “pretend” play.

Join in. Ask if you can be a character in your children’s game and then join in the game. Get down to your children’s level by sitting on the floor or on a low chair. When you join in your children’s games, it helps you connect with them.

Watch and follow. Try putting out some toys that could be used for pretend play – like a doll, truck or toy phone – and then see what catches your child’s interest. When she picks up a toy and starts to play with it, play that pretend game with her. Children are much more motivated to play with you when you follow their lead.

Take turns. Sometimes, if children aren’t pretending very much, it’s easy for us to feel like we need to take over and show them what to do. After you have done something with your toy, just wait a little bit so that your child can have a turn to do something with his toy. Think of it like a conversation – each of you gets a chance to say or do something!

Read aloud. Stories are like fertiliser for the imagination – they help it to grow! Storybooks offer children an endless supply of ideas for characters, settings and situations that they can use in their pretend play.

Find the child inside you as you enjoy playing “let’s pretend” with your children, knowing that you are also helping to develop their literacy!