Symbolic Play

Pretend Play

Pretend play is when your child uses objects in make-believe activities. Symbolic play is when she imitates actions and sounds she encounters in everyday life and imagines scenarios that take familiar experiences in a new direction.


Rachel is in the closet of her mother’s room. She finds some hats, shoes, purses, and a dress on the floor of the closet. Mom asks, “Rachel! What are you doing in the closet?" Mom does not hear a response. Rachel begins to put her feet in her mom’s shoes. She puts on her mom’s dress by just putting her arms in any opening she can find, and then tops it all of f with a hat. She comes out of the closet and stands in front of her parents. Rachel says, “I am Mommy,” as she walks around the room.


Rachel dresses up like her mother because these are clothes that she sees her mother wearing every day. Rachel is pretending to experiment with being Mommy. The clothing and accessories she puts on are all symbols she associates with Mom.

Pretend play allows your child to experiment with different experiences that have occurred in her environment. A child may push a block around the floor as a car or put it to her ear as a cell phone.

Pretend play supports creativity, language skills, and the understanding of social roles. Whether you have a girl or a boy, it is important for you to have dress up clothes for your child, as they provide one of the easiest forms of pretend play.

Since your child’s daily routines are now more structured, you have to be intentional in exposing your child to pretend play opportunities. That is because pretend play is a crucial part of your child’s development in all areas and will continue to evolve. As your child approaches 18 months, she will use more imagination during her play experiences, using a broom to row her boat made from a box she is sitting in. During this time you will see your child engaged in solitary pretend play experiences.

From ages three to five this pretend play will expand to include others and children assigning roles to one another. Pretend play provides a fun way for you to interact with your child. Get in on the fun and see what happens.

Why support pretend play?
- It exposes your child to new vocabulary, such as dog, cat, or princess and king.

- You will help her learn to play with others during group play experiences. This helps develop her ability to take others’ perspectives into account and learn empathy.

Objects to support pretend play:

- play dishes and play food

- toy toolbox

- pretend doctor’s kit

- dress-up clothing

Some of the best toys to support your child during pretend play should be everyday materials found around your home. A large cardboard box can expand your child’s thinking to turn it into a rocket ship or a racecar. Providing a laundry basket will encourage your child to think about how it can be used as a cage for his stuf fed animals.