What is Happening When Your Toddler Engages in Pretend Play?


Starting around two years old, your toddler will start to enter their own little worlds of pretend play. They might be busy cooking in the toy kitchen, pushing their baby around in a pushchair, or chatting with their teddies. It’s adorable to watch, but even more fascinating when you understand the What, Why and How behind their newfound imagination.

Trained in early childhood education, we spoke to the teachers at Auckland’s Learning Tree Childcare about what’s happening in your toddler’s mind when they engage in pretend play.

Processing the world

By acting out everyday activities, from pouring a cup of tea to tucking their doll into bed, your child is starting to understand the world around them. They are recreating the many small details they notice in a day, figuring out why some things (like breakfast) happen every day, while others (like pancakes!) are a special treat. Why daycare is for weekdays, while swimming is only once a week. Pretend play that mimics the real world is their way of processing it.

Solving problems

Problem solving is a skill that your child will carry with them for life, so when you see them start to engage in pretend play know that this essential skill is starting to blossom. During pretend play at daycare, we see all sorts of unique thinking, from which toy can work as a roof on their house of blocks, to how a stick in the garden can double as a magic wand.

What you see is your child thinking for themselves and solving their own problems; what you don’t see is that their brains are literally growing, developing, and making new connections – how cool is that!

Improving communication

You might hear your youngster babbling away incomprehensibly, then all of a sudden, a real word escapes! That’s because pretend play can be a great time for toddlers to try out their new language skills without the pressure of getting it right with their parents or childcare teachers. And getting lost in their own worlds isn’t only a great place for new vocabulary, it’s an excellent opportunity to work on non-verbal communication too.

Developing their motor skills

Remember when you got excited when your baby first grasped a toy or picked up a green pea? They’ve come a long way from those early days, but their physical abilities still have a long way to go. Pretend play offers opportunities to build and develop all manner of motor skills, from fine motor skills when they’re sorting shapes to gross motor skills when they engage in running races up and down the hall.

Pop into your nearest Learning Tree Childcare centre in Auckland and see how our teachers encourage the ever-important practice of pretend play!

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