From 3 years to 5 years old, children play a lot to pretend. They use a pan lid as a car steering wheel, pretend to be on the phone or cook a plasticine cake. These are called symbolic games and they are very important for the development of children.
Before entering school, children use symbols more and more as they play. Symbolic games provide the foundation for children to learn to use other symbols, such as letters and numbers.
Symbolic games allow children:
- To use their imagination;
- Improve their ability to control their actions and emotions;
- Strengthen their social skills;
- To put into practice their learning.
For example, when children play the bus, only one child at a time can play the role of the driver. While waiting for their turn, the others must find a role: they thus exert their imagination and learn to think before acting.
How to promote symbolic play in children
Bring your child’s attention to each other’s roles in various contexts to enrich his or her play scenarios. Any moment shared with your child can become a pretext to help him or her see what’s around them. At the convenience store, for example, point out the characteristic elements of this type of business. You help him to make more complex the scenarios he will invent. When he plays “at the convenience store” with friends, he will remember that it takes a cash register, a clerk, customers …
Give him versatile multipurpose equipment (cardboard boxes, rolls of paper towels, sheets …) to give more space to his imagination. For example, a sheet turns into a tent, a card becomes a house or a pirate ship.
If your child is younger or less imaginative, suggest more specific costume items (eg, apron, cap, belt). These accessories will help him stay focused and keep his role in mind.
Give your child time to develop his play, repeat it (sometimes for several days) and explore the different roles of the scenario.
Offer him, if necessary, new ideas to revive his game.