Critical elements of make-believe play

Visit any preschool classroom during free play and you will likely see a child pretending to be someone else. Make-believe play is a ubiquitous part of early childhood. And beyond being fun for kids, pretending and other kinds of imaginative play are also believed by some to be critical to healthy child development.

Research has found a relationship between pretend play and a child’s developing creativityunderstanding of others and social competence with peers.

As a psychologist who studies imaginary play and childhood development and is no stranger to the preschool classroom, I have met many children for whom an imaginary friend or impersonation of a character is more than just an amusing pastime. Such activities often reflect what children have on their minds.

So how might imaginary play lead to benefits for kids? And does imaginary play make for more socially astute kids? Or is that that kids who more socially adept tend to engage in this kind of play more?