Skills Children Develop

From stories, TV, and real life, children learn about what people do. They copy how others get along with each other and handle their emotions. They care for sick people and drive big trucks. Pretend play enables children to show what they've learned.

A close observer of young children's pretend play sees that they are figuring out how others feel. They are learning to take turns, share, and make friends. As children talk with each other and try out their ideas, vocabularies expand. Problem solving is a natural development as children decide who will play which roles, what the "rules" are for their play, and how the scenario will evolve.

Setup Ideas

Active play areas spill from one to the next. Locate pretend play near blocks and art/music to integrate learning. Some teachers start the year with a homey feel by using culturally diverse housekeeping props. Vary the setting as imaginative themes come and go: trains, grocery store, pet shop. Find authentic items and encourage children to make their own props.

Store small items on low, open shelves. Hang clothing from racks or hooks to make selection and cleanup easier. Make sure child traffic can flow easily into, and through, the pretend play area.

Teaching Strategies

Encourage children to help decide how to set up the pretend play area. Together, make a list of props to follow through on themes.

Join in with the children when you're invited. Look for opportunities to facilitate relationships or imaginations by playing a minor role. Have a cup of "hot, fragrant tea." If you "hear a baby," mention that it sounds like "a hungry cry." Suggest extensions for play, and then gracefully bow out as children pick up from there.

Suggested Materials

  • career items: brief cases, work gloves, stethoscopes, microscope
  • child-size household furniture and multicultural accessories
  • clothing, rotated often, for a variety of roles and cultures
  • dollhouses, furniture, multicultural dolls and accessories
  • furnishings: phone, cash register, notepad, dishes, blankets
  • mirror (unbreakable, door size)
  • puppets and theater
  • recycled food boxes and containers

Close adult supervision is required to ensure safety of young children. Projects with small parts and scissors with metal blades are for children ages 4 and older.