The benefits of pretend play

Published on Wednesday, 10 June 2020
Last updated on Wednesday, 21 October 2020

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Pretend play is a fantastic way to transform a dreary day at home into a daring night outdoors! With a few props and a big imagination, your child can imagine up a whole camping experience from the comfort of your living room.

The sky’s the limit when they’re building a cardboard campfire, toasting pretend marshmallows and mistaking Daddy for a drop bear, so let’s explore the benefits of pretend play for young children and share some fun ways to bring a make-believe camping trip to life.

What do children learn from pretend play?

Whether they’re pretending to be a vet, shopkeeper, chef or happy camper, pretend play is a fantastic way for toddlers, preschoolers and younger school children to learn skills and have fun.

Bright Horizons says that:

  • Pretend play teaches children about themselves and the world, because they learn about their own likes, dislikes, interests and abilities, and those of their peers. Youngsters also get to express new feelings and ideas through roleplay experimentation.
  • Pretend play helps children understand confusing, scary or new life issues. For instance, snuggling up in a loungeroom tent might help a child overcome their fear of the dark, and playing doctors can help children prepare for real-life experiences, like getting a vaccination.
  • Pretend play can also help children work through more serious matters, like the absence of a parent after divorce.
  • Pretend play develops children’s social and emotional intelligence. It teaches youngsters how to read social cues, recognise and regulate emotions, take turns and ‘engage in a long-term activity that is mutually beneficial.’
  • This type of play also helps children develop complex thinking skills. As they pretend to camp, cook or care for others, children are also practising how to:
    • Problem-solve and negotiate
    • Communicate verbally and physically
    • Express their thoughts and ideas
    • Consider other people’s viewpoints
    • Assign tasks and roles
    • Develop plans and carry them out
    • Combine knowledge and skills (e.g. by writing signs, sorting products, adding up prices and communicating with customers in a pretend supermarket)

All in all, pretend play is fun in the moment, educational in the early years and beneficial later in life. It’s also a cheap and cheerful way to have a holiday!

What does pretend camping look like?

Pretend play opens up a whole world of possibilities, and although your child could take a trip to the moon or travel back in time, they’ll go wild for a make-believe campground.

Here are some easy ways to set up an outdoorsy experience indoors:

  1. Start by pitching a tent. If you don’t have a play tent or teepee, just hang sheets off a couch or table. Once your tent has been ‘pegged’, deck it out with pillows, sleeping bags and a torch. 
  2. Make a pretend campfire. You can use felt or another type of fabric, but to involve your child in the fire-building,  use carboard tubes for logs and orange tissue paper for flames. Add some pretend marshmallows (cotton balls on twigs) or real snacks, and your child is all set.
  3. Go fishing! Tie some string and a magnet to a thin length of wood (a chopstick would work). Cut out several fish shapes in paper and attach a paper clip to each one. Hand your child their rod and watch as they catch fish from a couch-shaped ‘boat’ (making sure no babies or toddlers take the bait – magnets and paperclips are for older kids).
  4. Look for wildlife. Two toilet paper rolls and bit of creativity are all you need to make a pair of DIY binoculars with your child. Once they’re finished, scatter some soft toys around the campsite and watch as your wildlife warrior surveys the scene.
    To add a night-time buzz, you can also make some drink bottle ‘fireflies’ with googly eyes and glowsticks inside.
  5. Tell stories around the campfire. Once the daytime activities are done, turn off the lights, pull down the curtains and read a book by torchlight. We’re Going on a Bear Hunt, A Camping Spree with Mr Magee and Curious George Goes Camping are all on theme. 

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