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Abracadabra... The importance of symbolic – pretend play in the development of children

11 December 2018

In recent years, great emphasis has been put on creating games that will promote children’s ability to learn and develop their knowledge. Many game developers are now generating a multitude of games for learning and entertainment, while many of them are really amazing. However, we overlooked the importance of fantasy in children’s play and focused on teaching them skills that should have been reserved for a later time in their development. And in fact, it is the pretend - symbolic play that helps the child learn a great variety of new skills and allow him to process them in order to generalize what has been learned and shape his personality later on.

The symbolic play as two dimensions. The first is associated with the child's fantasies, inner world and its formation, while the second-dimension states that children through their imaginary play try to get to know and understand the social reality that surround them. The roles they adopt in their pretend play are all aspects of social life that processes them in their own way.

Symbolic play can take the following forms:

● Children through their imagination transform an object into something other than what it really is, for the sake of play, for example, the marker becomes a candle or a sword. the sick car that goes to the doctor to do well.
● Children enter the same roles and experiences in different life scenarios playing the parent, the teacher, a superhero.

The choice of role and the way they manage the action of it encourage children to work out important issues of their everyday life that concern them. According to some studies, pretend play is considered as part of an informal education system that prepares the child to enter the adult world. Choosing different roles is the effort of children to balance the weakness they experience in their everyday life being surrounded by adults and all the unexpected situations.

Symbolic play promotes children's emotional, cognitive and linguistic development in many ways. Parents can reinforce it by dedicating time to their children and playing with them. Through playing they can teach them the right behavior, manage emotions and at the same time help them in verbal expression and the development of fiction. Finally, through play, parents can prevent aggressive behavior, and it is good for them to supervise their children's play so they can discreetly and not intrusively prevent unwanted behaviors.

Pretend- symbolic play contributes to the following areas of child development:
● Social development
When children play symbolically, they experiment actively with the social roles of their real life. Symbolic play encourages children to participate in social activities and to understand social relationships. Children learn fun ways to interact with others and their ability to understand the emotions of themselves and others increase significantly. Through the imaginary play, their self-esteem and their ability to share and act collectively is enhanced.
● Language improvement
Children develop a more enriched vocabulary and a better fluency because they experiment with words freely in their own space and time without the stress of misuse. Through pretend play children begin to understand the importance of words and how they shape stories and organize the game with others. The organization of their speech is reinforced by the fact that each story has a beginning and a certain time of evolution.
● Emotional development
Symbolic play allows children to express both positive and negative emotions. It also helps to process their difficult sentiments and take their time to fully understand them. Symbolic play provides children with a way to cope with emotional conflicts and anxieties. It, also, becomes the place where children will develop their emotional intelligence and empathy for the feelings of others through testing different scenarios and roles.
● Physical development
Children in order to express themselves through imaginary play use all their muscles and senses to achieve it. Therefore, both their gross and fine motor skills are strengthened.
● Developing critical thinking
Symbolic play encourages mental development by creating opportunities for testing new ideas, ways of thinking and solving problems. While playing, children face various problems that they are called upon to resolve. Whether it's two kids who want to play the same role, or looking for the right stuff to use for a doll bed, kids will use the important thinking skills they will later use in their adult lives. Also, new relationships between objects and their meanings gradually appear in the game. In this way, children develop their abstract thinking.

How to nurture pretend – symbolic play:
Box of imagination: a box of old clothes and objects the child could use to transform into different roles
Dolls and teddy bears: the child can use to give them different roles
Doll house and tent: to create an "outside family world"
Doctor tools – builder tools- masks and maybe dress up clothes, kitchen utensils and cars.

Engage actively as parents in your child's pretend - symbolic play, letting them share the roles and lead the play, your attitude and the way you play your role will create a model for your child and enhance the values and skills you want them to have on an individual and social level!

Let’s transform to something extraordinary!

Marilou Kountria
Psychologist – Play Therapist

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