The Power of Imaginative Play

Imaginative play is one of the most critical ways young children learn and develop. Let's take a look at a common play date activity. The joy that comes from having a friend over for a day of play is enormous in a child's eyes. Play is a whirlwind of activity, and as kids get comfortable with each other, play becomes more of an easy flow of events. Play food and dishes are often a front runner for playtime inspiration. There are so many options, like having a tea party or running a restaurant. Any way it happens, it makes for a fun way to spend the day!

Now let's break it down into what kids REALLY get out of it. Pretend play touches on all the major developmental and school readiness skills.


Activities such as grabbing fruits, setting the table, and feeding dolls with a fork help kids develop the muscles in their hands and fingers that are necessary for them to feed themselves, brush their teeth with a toothbrush, hold a pencil, and zip their jackets. Kids are able to master these daily living skills because they have had a chance to figure out how their hands work together and how their fingers move individually.


Let kids set the table, making sure each has a cup, plate, bowl, spoon, knife, and fork. This prepares them for eating a meal, using matching and patterning skills. Making sure each guest has the same amount of food leads to counting and comparing. All the foods used have names associated with them. Vocabulary is naturally built and reinforced during play. It's easier to remember the word "apple" when you have seen it and held it. Even spatial words like under, over, on, and off are a part of play that is experienced, not just learned.


Pretend play is a way children learn more about themselves and others. They try on different roles and, in doing so, expand their viewpoints, gain insight, and develop empathy. The scenes kids create let them express emotions they may not understand. They may work through anxieties of trying a new food or going to the doctor. This ability to make the scene whatever they want helps them figure out what can happen, how it makes them feel, and what they can do to make it more comfortable.


The skills children learn when they play together help them explore and understand social rules like conversational turn taking, cooperating, and sharing. There is also a certain amount of negotiation as they determine who should play what role. And, when they disagree, they are actually developing important skills too. They learn how to be appropriately assertive and how to compromise. There are different stages of social play - the skills children learn, practice, and master during play will benefit them throughout their lives.

Big Picture

Pretend play has the components above, but it leads to a grander knowledge. Those imaginative storylines that are acted out lead to creative thinking and effective problem solving. Just like pretend play has no one right or wrong way, many problems in life can, and should, have more than one way of addressing them. This helps kids growing up in the 21st century enhance curiosity and develop the inventiveness needed to be successful in school and career.

So, the next time you see kids having tea, put your feather boa on, sit down and ask for a cup! It's a great way to relax, have fun, and support development!