Monday, November 25, 2013

Pretend Play and Cognitive Development in Children

According to Doris Bergen of Miami University, there is evidence to support the connection between high-quality pretend play and cognitive development in children.  Specifically, there is evidence to suggest that pretend play facilitates perspective taking, abstract thought, social and language skills.  It may also enhance higher level cognition skills. However, more research is needed to specifically link pretend play to specific academic skills.

What is High-Quality Pretend Play?
Bergen's view is that it involves the following elements:

  • Transforming objects symbolically
  • Role-playing
  • Negotiating
  • Social interaction
  • Improvisation
  • Planning
  • Problem-solving
  • Seeking goals
There is research evidence suggesting a connection between pretense and cognitive strategy development, language development and social development.  For Bergen's full article, visit

Melissa and Doug Whittle World School Bus
Folmanis Lion Stage Puppet

How can Adults Encourage and Facilitate Pretend Play in Kids?
Melissa and Doug Grocery Basket with Play Food

  • Allow enough time for this type of play, which is more open-ended and much less structured than play with board games or software games.  Thus, more time is needed for play to be planned, roles to be negotiated, and social interaction to take place.
  • Provide children with toys, such as puppets, play food, or costumes, that encourage improvisation, role-playing and social interaction.
  • Practice being creative and improvising with kids.  Grab a banana or a big spoon and pretend to sing into your "microphone".  See how many different items a bowl (i.e. hat) can be or how many ways a pair of pantyhose can be used (i.e. strainer, belt, hair accessory, arm sling).
  • Embrace the unconventional view or different perspective.  A "hole" in a sock may well be an "opening" for the toe!
  • When emotions are part of the pretend play, help children to name feelings and understand feelings from different perspectives.
For more toys that may facilitate pretend play, visit our website at