How Pretend Play Develops

How Pretend Play Develops

2021-08-16T10:17:26+00:00July 31st, 2021|

We often hear the words “pretend play” from teachers and therapists. It is highly encouraged because most children learn better by doing. Moreover, pretend play has a big role in a child’s development. Through pretend play, children know more about themselves and the world. Children develop important complex social and higher order thinking skills. Pretend play is much more than simple play activities; it requires advanced thinking strategies, communication, and social skills. Moreover, children foster social and emotional intelligence. How we interact with others is key to our lifelong success and happiness. Knowing how to read social cues, recognize and regulate emotions, negotiate and take turns, and engage in a long-term activity that is mutually beneficial are no easy tasks. So, to develop pretend play, we will be discussing with you the levels of pretend play into 5 levels.


Level 1: Sensorimotor Play

Admit it or not, at times parents get a little frantic whenever bang or suck some toys. However, this is part of the first level of play wherein they simply manipulate toys such as waving, tapping, lining up or even licking the toys. Usually, they seek sensory input and become curious about a toy, and this is the way how they usually explore them.


Level 2: Emerging functional play

This occurs when a child uses toys in a socially conventional way. To make it simpler, they start to use toys according to its function. Some examples are: pushing a car, putting a cup on a saucer, etc. Usually at this level, they know about 2-3 example of these functional manipulation of toys.


Level 3: Established functional play

This is similar to emerging functional play but for this level, functional play is present over a range of different toys. Examples are holding a phone on the ear, combing a doll’s hair, putting food on a play, flying an airplane on the air, mixing a bowl, and many more.



Level 4: Emerging pretend play

You will know that this level has developed when there is an object substitution. This means a child is able to find an item to stand in for another. For example, there is not available plate, the child would find an alternative such as a lid to replace the object. Another thing is when play involves attributing false properties to an object in play. For example, a child is wiping her doll’s face as if it was dirty. Also, you’ll know that a child has reached this level when he/she is seen to use imaginary objects in play when he/she behaves as if the absent object is present. Example, drinking tea from an empty cup or making a car have an imaginary clash with another car. Lastly, on this level, a child knows which one is “real” situation and which one is “pretend” acting.


Level 5: Established pretend play

This level is present when a child can spontaneously produce at least three, or more or two examples of any of the types of play listed above. Usually at this level, a child can also link ideas and can sequence series of ideas on play. Somehow, you would see that there is a theme on the child’s play. E.g. Cooking theme – the child cooks, then prepares the table then ask the people to eat, then wash the dishes, etc.


Pretend play is vital in our children’s development. It is best to be involved and play together with our children. Give them ideas on pretend play, make different sounds, make all the big movements and create different scenarios in play. This will help them with their creativity and also their problem solving skills!

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