Pretend Play provides heaps of fun for you and your child, and is a big part of play-based learning. The preschool age, in particular around the age of 4 years old, is when imagination and the ability to pretend really starts to peak and develop.
In this guide we also briefly discuss why pretend play should be encouraged, and provide some recommendations for the best pretend play toys for preschoolers, particularly those in the the 4 year old age group.
- What is Pretend Play?
- Why is Pretend Play Important and Beneficial?
- Tips for Encouraging Pretend Play
- What Age to Begin Introducing Pretend Play
- Best Pretend Play Toys for 4 Year Olds
What is Pretend Play?
Pretend play, also known as “imaginative play”, is when a child role-plays experiences of interest. For example, your child may play school or pretend to be a doctor with their toys. Children may engage in pretend play alone, or with others (usually similar aged-peers or with adults).
Why is Pretend Play Important and Beneficial?
The developmental benefits of Pretend Play, includes:
- It helps your child to learn about other people’s perspectives. The “theory of mind” refers to an individual’s ability to attribute mental states – beliefs, intents, desires, emotions, and knowledge – to ourselves and to others. We are not born with this ability! Several developmental precursors must occur before we are able to develop this ability, and pretend play is closely related to, and supports this development.
- It supports social and emotional development – your child is presented with the opportunity to experiment with various social and emotional roles.
- It supports language and communication skills – as your child creates dialog between his/her toys, or as they engage in pretend play with others, they are utilising their language and communication skills.
- It enhances physical development – for example, by fitting a doll’s arm through a jacket.
- It fosters imagination + creativity – an important cognitive skill that we require all throughout life.
- It boosts problem-solving and self regulation skills– eg. when playing with others there will be instances where not everyone gets what they want. Pretend play provides a safe space (under the guidance of adults) to navigate those problem-solving and self regulation skills.
Parents may also use Pretend Play to create incidental learning opportunities to teach and model positive behaviour, or work through tricky situations with guidance.
Tips for Encouraging Pretend Play
Here are some tips to encourage your child to engage in Pretend Play:
- Provide props and play partners (similar-aged peers as well as adults)
- Allocate lots of space throughout your day, time for unstructured play
- Dress up parties are a great setting for pretend play to occur
- Involve your children with daily chores and every day activities
What Age to Begin Introducing Pretend Play
You may introduce Pretend Play to your child from a young age, with age-appropriate props and activities. Start with simple, safe items for your child (eg. soft toy) and model imaginative play for your child to kick-start the experience.
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Best Pretend Play Toys for 4 Year Olds
Melissa and Doug make some great toys for Pretend Play spanning across various categories. Here are our top picks:
Toys re-enacting Household Chores / Everyday Scenarios for 4 Year Olds
This 25 piece Get Well First Aid Play Set offers realisitic accessories to enable little healers to help the injured get well! Wrist cast, splint, sling, wipes and gauze in pouches, ice-packs etc. Great prompts for discussing what it means to get injured, and what we should do when we get hurt (or someone we know gets hurt) in the playground or at home.
Toys Supporting Role-Play for 4 Year Olds
This Feed and Groom Horse Care Play Set comes with a plush horse and feeding and groom accessories. The reusable double-sided checklist itemises horse care responsibilities, and is a great starting point to discuss what it means to look after and care for our animals and pets.
Costumes Role Play Sets for 4 Year Olds
Costumes allows your child to step into another role through play – whether that be an astronaut, fire chief, doctor, or police officer! This Astronaut Role Play Costume Set prepares your little one for their own mission – whether it’s piloting an imaginary rocket, exploring distant galaxies or striding dramatically on the moon. Great prompt for exploring what it means to be an astronaut – what their job entails, how they might feel when leaving earth for the moon, and what motivates them in their job.
Play Food Sets for 4 Year Olds
This Prepare and Serve Pasta set lets your little chefs perfect their pasta-making skills. They can also learn to follow instructions contained in the illustrated guide on how to “cook” the pasta and “strain” it in the colander over the cooktop and sink play mat. A great introduction to what it means to serve delicious, nourishing food for the family.
Pretend Play Rugs for 4 Year Olds
This sturdy, colourful Prehistoric Dinosaur Play Rug provides many options for creative play. It comes with 4 dinosaur play figures, and its large format is big enough to accommodate multiple kids and lots of dinosaurs (imagine all the narratives that can brought to life through many-a-play times!)
We hope this provides you with a good overview of Pretend Play, as well as our shortlist of versatile props that you can incorporate into every day Pretend Play with your child.