There are many benefits of letting young children simply play. Like I have mentioned in previous posts, early learning through play is the most effective way for children to develop social and cognitive skills, mature emotionally, and gain the self-confidence required to engage in new experiences and environments. Playing with others is what specifically sparks effective collaboration and social-emotional development. When children are interacting with others, they learn how to listen, share toys and space, and even being to understand other’s feelings and thoughts. Additionally, because play often involves many feelings such as joy, frustration, and even anger- young children also learn necessary skills to manage these emotions.
However, the most effective way for children to learn prosocial behavior is by observing and modeling others. Bandura (2002) uses the term modeling to describe two processes of response acquisition, while claiming that modeling can have as much impact as a direct experience, also known as social cognitive theory. With this theory in mind, practicing pretend play with your little one is essentially an opportunity for prosocial behavior and messages to be propagated to your children. Therefore, including positive themes such as cooperation, sharing, empathy and acceptance into your everyday routines and activities will help your child model this behavior. While you are playing with your children or when they are playing with peers, watch out for these skills and see how they develop over time:
- Working through conflicts
- Naming and expressing their feelings to others
- Patience and perseverance
- Empathy development
- Offering comfort to others
- Participating in pretend play
There are many forms of play, but watching children develop their imaginations and practice pretend play is something especially important- and despite popular belief, it is very much possible to play without any toys at all! This development usually occurs around age 2, and their creativity sky-rockets as they begin to see the world in a new light. Here are ways that you can get involved with pretend-play:
- Create a “prop box” of different costumes or objects that can spark your little ones imagination
- Fill a tissue box with your own ideas that you think will get your little one excited! For example go camping inside by making a fort out of pillows or pretending you’re an astronaut in space.
- Write out different poems about your little ones interests or create a packing list for a pretend vacation.
- Create made up scenarios and ask your little one what they would do.
There are many things parents and early educators can do can encourage young children to use their imaginations. In general, always consider the relationship between learning and play as you watch your children grow.
Banura, A. (2002). Social cognitive theory of mass communication. In J. Bryant, & D. Zillman (Eds). Media effects: Advances in theory and research (2nd ed., pp. 121-153). Hillside, NJ: Erlbaum.