It might be a tea towel that becomes a superhero cape. A sofa cushion on the carpet that becomes a pirate’s raft on a terrifying ocean of lava. Or a shoe box crammed with ‘borrowed’ items that somehow becomes a small – but suspiciously expensive – grocery store. Every day, it seems, an entire make-believe universe is bubbling inside your toddler’s head.

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What might not be apparent, however, is the extraordinary learning and development that is taking place. Whether by playing shops, or teaching teddy bears their ABC, your little one is learning to deal with the big wide world outside. And for several reasons, this is absolutely crucial …

Make-believe boosts social and emotional skills

Let’s say your toddler decides you need a trip to the doctor’s surgery. When they ask to take your temperature, what they’re actually doing is refining their social skills. They are practicing what it might sound like to interact with someone outside of their immediate family – as well as starting to understand how to behave in real-world situations. Developing other emotions, like empathy and kindness, also comes into play here as they assess your condition and tell you how best to treat it. Cartoon animal plaster please, nurse!

Pretend play is a safe learning environment

Role play allows your child to take on the world in the safety of their own home. So when your little performer puts on their mail sack and delivers letters to their stuffed toys, they’re copying what they’ve seen in the outside world in order to get a better understanding of themselves within it. They’ve seen postal workers – and are now trying out what they wear, what they do and how they do it in an environment where they feel safe and secure.

Play helps with language and numbers

Back to the shop and while your little one is totting up the items in your basket (three bars of chocolate, Daddy?) they are building numeracy skills. But they’re also making connections between sounds and objects to expand their vocabulary. Help them name and count items, and they will store this information in their rapidly developing brains, learning huge amounts while simply having fun.

Role play develops fine motor skills

When your toddler uses their fingers as ‘scissors’ to pretend to cut your hair, they are strengthening the little muscles in their fingers and building fine motor skills. This is vital for tasks such as learning to write. The more intricate the pretend play – peeling off stickers or unscrewing bottle tops – the more fine-tuned their muscles will be.

Make-believe builds that vital confidence

One familiar role-play scenario might be your child playing ‘school’. But when they line up their ‘class’ of toys and start taking an imaginary register, they are putting themselves in total control. This not only builds their confidence as a leader, it gives them the opportunity to think independently and picture being whoever they want to be: astronaut, builder, doctor … the sky’s the limit!


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