WASHINGTON, D.C. (Ivanhoe Newswire) — In the space of just a few minutes, your child can go from being an architect constructing the tallest building in the world or a pirate digging for buried treasure to an explorer looking for new countries to discover. Now, new research shows pretend play can have real social and emotional advantages for kids.
Playing house, cooking and serving dinner to friends or grabbing a hard hat for a day of building new cities; a child’s imagination can be endless.
“You don’t want to tell a kid how to play, just give them the opportunity to play,” parent Jeremiah Foxwell told Ivanhoe.
Developmental psychologist Thalia Goldstein, Ph.D., studied 97 five-year- olds enrolled in pre-kindergarten head start. The kids were split in three activity groups. One group pretended to be animals or other people, one group was read to, and a third group built with blocks.
“What we found was the children who were in the dramatic pretend play group increased their emotional control over the course of the eight weeks,” detailed Goldstein.
Researchers measured emotional control using puppets and by looking at children’s behavior when they were under stress. In this study the puppets were either in control or out of control. Researchers asked which puppet the kids were more like. Kids in the dramatic play group identified with the puppet in control.
Goldstein told Ivanhoe, “Kids are learning what their emotions feel like in their bodies. What their emotions feel like in themselves. And how they can begin to modulate and control those emotions.”
Goldstein recommends parents spend at least 15 minutes a day engaged in pretend play; something as simple as pretending to be a chef, while your child is a waiter or pretending to bake a cake, while the other celebrates a birthday. It’s make-believe play that can have real-life results.
Researchers say the results suggest the potential for using pretend play as an intervention to improve emotional control and social skills and improve school readiness among high-risk kids.
Contributors to this news report include: Cyndy McGrath, Supervising and Field Producer; Milvionne Chery, News Producer; Roque Correa, Editor; Kirk Manson, Videographer.
Produced by Child Trends News Service in partnership with Ivanhoe Broadcast News and funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation.