One of the skills that we parents should develop after we have children is the ability to observe. Especially in early childhood, the period from gestation to age 6, children are a daily factory of novelties both from the motor and cognitive point of view as well as the social and emotional. Suddenly, that little person starts to walk, talk, and even “chirp” and you get the impression that it came from nowhere. Have you ever felt that? This same observation should be applied to playtime. Suddenly, without you expecting it, the make-believe game begins.
When does make-believe play start?
Children love to play make-believe, “working”, being a doctor to the animals and dolls, cooking delicious imaginary meals, saving the universe, and even piloting spaceships. Make-believe play starts around 3 years old and goes up to 7, 8 years old, or more.
From 2 to 5 or 6 years old, children enter symbolic play. This is when their interest in playing at school, in the house, or with superheroes begins. This is also seen when they manipulate objects, giving them different meanings, such as treating a broomstick like a horse. For this reason, dolls, cars, costumes, and painting materials are welcome. It is time to sing, dance, and imitate. The little ones represent their father and mother, simulate imaginary events and play with the different situations they observe in the adult social world.
Balls, tricycles, and bicycles are also great, as they offer motor challenges. Outdoors walks in parks, contact with other children and some animals, visits to museums, theatres and art studios should be part of the family’s programme. Even at the moment of choosing where to go, children can (and should) be consulted, as they can already justify their preferences. They also know what they don’t want to do. This phase is rich in learning. Besides an increase in their cognitive abilities, there is also physical, emotional, affective, and social maturing.
By the age of 6 or 7, boys and girls are less self-centered and are able to put themselves in the other’s place. This is a great time to respect rules, cooperate and compete. This is the phase of rules-based games and requires participants to comply with agreements and to consider other factors that influence the result, such as attention, concentration, reasoning, and luck. It is possible, for example, to play together with others in activities where motor coordination and the senses are combined with intellectual skills.
Various games come into play at this stage, from a game of football to chess. Since they need challenges, parents can stimulate them with the initiation to sports, visits to interactive museums, reading books, and board games, where there are rules that need to be respected in order to achieve the objective. It is a time for learning values, experimenting with relationships and life in society.
It is worth highlighting construction games, in which the main activity is to use several objects to create a new one. This phase does not specifically comprise an age milestone, as it combines the child’s ability to fantasize situations and manipulate objects to put their thinking into practice. A city with wooden blocks or a plane made of scrap metal are good examples.
The importance of make-believe in Childhood
Make-believe is the way she begins to interact with the world around her and brings social, emotional, physical and intellectual maturation to the child. When she plays, she plays roles, creates interactions and plots. This play helps the child to develop a series of motor and psychological skills, helps strengthen family ties and get to know better what the child thinks, feels and how they express themselves in the world.
Physical benefits: by playing, building scenarios, assembling “houses”, feeding dolls, the child develops a series of physical-motor skills. Works motor-visual interaction, psychomotricity, spatial coordination.
Emotional benefits: by creating their scenarios they can express their difficulties and contradictions. There is an increase in self-esteem (with princesses, superheroes), development of a feeling of security and protection, independence, recognition of their feelings through their numerous “characters”.
Social Benefits: whether playing alone or in a group, the child learns to put themselves in the other’s place, interact and overcome disputes, accept interference in their ideas, lead and be led. The importance of socializing in group play is becoming increasingly necessary, since many jobs require a good team relationship and more and more cooperative work. In this real-life make-believe, children create expressions and rules that are shared with everyone involved, this is the time when they can learn to explain what they think and understand other people’s opinions.
Intellectual benefits: in each game, the child goes beyond their knowledge and imagination, creating stories, characters and situations. Whether creating a toy from a cardboard box or building her volcano, she is working and creating her knowledge. They solve problems, learn maths by dividing the “food” between the dolls, they learn the traditions of their family or social group.
How can we encourage and provide more and more fun and healthy play?
Giving time: children need time to develop their play, let your child play and follow their imagination.
Playing together: do you remember their games? Enter your child’s world of imagination and have fun together. You will increase the bond with your child and get to know him/her better.
Read stories: by reading stories to children, we give them the keys to new worlds, new creations. Which little girl, after seeing a cartoon or a princess story, has not created her own kingdom? How many Cinderellas, Peter Pans, Supermen, Magicians, and Mermaids are there in children’s games? Show stories with different endings, and add not-so-happy endings. Not everything in life always ends with “happily ever after”.
Create your own stories: children love to know stories about their parents, their childhood, and games, and share them with them. Besides increasing the bond between you, you will give him an insight into the changes between generations. By explaining what a cassette tape was, and what tube TV was like, you encourage knowledge, and they are surprised when you tell them they didn’t have mobile phones, computers, and a TV channel!
Encourage Creativity: let them create. Make huts out of sheets, houses out of cardboard boxes, costumes out of Mum’s dresses and shoes. Encourage his ideas, his paintings, his art.
Do it yourself: there are lots of toys to encourage knowledge and creativity, but also endless possibilities for children to do this with what they have at home, by hand. You’ll find lots of ideas in our playtime category.
Play together: there are hundreds of games that can be played as a family, some, like modern board games, can take you into different worlds, create strategies, work together. A great suggestion to keep encouraging the imagination in the older ones.
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