The wonderful thing about encouraging preschoolers to participate in pretend play is that it can become whatever they want it to be. Preschoolers who are interested in cars can create a pretend garage or race track. Preschoolers who want to imitate their parents can set up a center that mimics their parents work environment or imitate behavior they see in their home.
Emotional and Social Development for Preschoolers
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Preschoolers can learn a great deal about the world through pretend play. Emotional and social development is just as important in a quality preschool education as academic education. Preschoolers who develop good social skills early on will be better prepared to be successful during their school years and to become an emotionally healthy adult.
Dolls are a wonderful tool to encourage preschoolers to develop empathy and compassion for other people. Even though preschoolers are working hard to develop their independence, they still spend most of their time being cared for by other people. Having the opportunity to care for someone else helps preschoolers to understand that other people have needs and feelings too.
Preschoolers are just beginning to participate in group play but they still have not mastered difficult concepts such as sharing and patience. Pretend play offers preschoolers the chance to merge parallel play with cooperative play. Preschoolers can play on their own while other kids enjoy the pretend to play center at the same time or they can participate in pretend play activities together. Pretend play allows preschoolers to play together by acting out situations that they see in their daily lives. This takes some of the pressure out of cooperative play for preschoolers.
Pretend Play as a Stress Reliever
Preschoolers feel stress just as the rest of us do. Stress can come from many sources. Preschoolers may become stressed if their daily routine has changed or if they are bored. The addition of a new sibling in the family or the divorce of their parents can drastically change their behavior and the way they interact with other children. Pretend play can help preschoolers deal with difficult emotions. It can be hard for preschoolers to verbalize their feelings when they are stressed out, but during pretend play they can act out the situation or emotions that are bothering them. Preschoolers who are struggling and acting out in the preschool classroom may be better served by spending 10 minutes on their own in the pretend play center to deal with their feelings than by sitting in time out.
Pretend play can also be an important tool for parents and preschool teachers to determine how a preschooler is coping with the various stresses that are present in their life. Preschool teachers can watch for warning signs during pretend play that will give them clues about whether or not a preschooler has been abused in any way by someone in their life. Preschoolers can let their parents and preschool teachers understand things that are bothering them and things that are important to them in a way that they may not be able to verbalize on their own.