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01:43 | 25/09/2019

   The toddler’s ability to use a toy as a tool for imaginative play is an important step for being able to engage in pretend play, an inevitable social milestone in the young child’s development. The ability to pretend emerges by 18 months of age and pretend play becomes more sophisticated by 3 years. It may seem like make believe to the adult eye, but it’s what a child uses for practicing adult roles like going to the grocery store or taking care of a baby, and acting out familiar events and actions like eating breakfast or getting ready for bed.


   It’s no coincidence that expressive language skills rapidly grow around the same time that pretend play begins to emerge—social and cognitive abilities do not develop independently; they are intertwined. The use of language supports and enhances imaginary play and vice versa. When a child pretends, she uses words to express feelings and ideas. As pretend play becomes more sophisticated, so do language skills.


   When your child begins to pretend, engage him in conversation. If he has a ball and says, “it’s an apple,” ask him where he got it: From the store? An apple tree? Bring up relevant words and ideas to enhance the play: Let’s make an apple pie? What do we need to make pie dough? Expand on his words and see where he goes with it. It’s important to support pretend play because it encourages your child to use cognitive skills like problem solving (what do we need to make an apple pie), and perspective taking (how does a baker make a pie).


   The ability to pretend develops on its own without your intervention. You can help take your child’s pretending to the next level.


   Peers become more interesting to young children, especially throughout the preschool years and beyond. A prominent researcher of social develop-
ment, Kenneth H.Rubin et al., recently demonstrated that infants imitate simple toy actions of their peers as early as12 months.


   Not only does this finding suggest that children as young as 1 year are trying to make sense of what their peers do, it supports the importance of the role peers play in a child’s development. Scheduling play dates with other parents and children is an effective and fun way to provide your child with unstructured time to explore and play at her own pace and with peers. Participating in organized playgroups or parent-child participation programs is a great way for children to interact alongside each other with your supervision.


   Playgroups also provide you a place to share concerns, parenting tips, and adult conversation with other parents. The play between your young child and his peers will most likely take the form of parallel play, play that is near peers but not collaborative. By 2 to 3 years, your child’s play will become more coopera-tive. You can guide your child through the change from parallel to cooperative play by surrounding him with developmentally appropriate activities he can enjoy with peers. Remember not to expect too much from your young toddler in regards to turn taking or sharing. Make sure there are plenty of toys to go around in your playgroup and put away any special items you know your child will have a difficult time seeing others play with. By age 2, you will get more cooperation from your child when it comes to sharing. Eventually your child will form her own way of interacting with peers that satisfies you and works for her.


Vanessa Gallo, Program Developer and Trainer for Gymboree Play & Music, holds an M.A. in Developmental Psychology. In addition to her role at Gymboree Play & Music, Vanessa serves as a guest lecturer at San Francisco State University and has recently published a piece in The Macmillan Psychology Reference Series: Child Development..”

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