Pretend and imaginative play are crucial to a child's development. Research shows clear benefits of children's engagement in imaginative play, especially between the ages two and seven years. Pretend play encompass a host of cognitive and creative activities such as make-believe, storytelling, acting, divergent thinking and the use of pretend objects or symbols. Just as importantly, pretend play exercises a key developmental milestone that researchers call "theory of mind," an awareness that one's thought may differ from those of other people's. You may hear a child saying explicitly, "Let's pretend" or "Let's play house." This signifies that the child is aware that others are not "in the know" of a child's fantasy and that communication is needed to make it a shared play experience. From a psychological perspective, pretend and imaginative play are ways for children to act out events they observed or issues they are dealing with that can't be easily verbalized. One way to support children's imaginative play is to provide lots of open-ended materials in the home so they can adapt them for different pretend scenarios. Don't shy away from participating along or even ocassionally taking center stage of the pretend narrative. Monitor the themes of pretense or imagination over time, and make suggestions to broaden the types of narratives that your child might be interested in. At times it might be useful to debrief when the theme becomes too sensitive or inappropriate.
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