The Importance of Pretend Play for Your Kids Development and How a Wooden Playhouse Will Help You Encourage It
What were your happiest childhood memories? Was it playing superheroes with your friends and siblings in your own outdoor playhouse or a fort built out of sofa cushions? Was it mixing sand with water while, in fact, you were the world's greatest chef?
All those thrilling adventures, doll fashion shows, and scientific breakthroughs you were making as a child were actually the so-called pretend play. And in many ways, those seemingly foolish games and childish fantasies are exactly what made you the person that you are right now.
Pretend play has many names today. It depends on who you ask about it. Some development experts and child psychologists often use terms like unstructured play. Your favorite elementary school teacher most probably called it "creative play" in their schedules and reports. While your parents probably referred to it as "slacking" or "goofing off."
No matter what you call it, pretend play is an inevitable part of every childhood, whether you grow up in the "One-Story-America" or the jungle of Amazon. And apparently, it is as an essential part of kids` development as learning to walk and talk.
Let's take a closer look at the phenomenon and idea of pretend play and see how it affects your kids` life and development and what you can do to help them get the most out of it.
"Play is our brain’s favorite way of learning."
- Diane Ackerman
Do Kids Play Less Today?
It is a very common opinion that kids don't actually play as much today as we did at their age. Seems like they spend most of their waking time with their gadgets and would prefer an evening with their PlayStation to an adventure in an outdoor playhouse.
For many parents worldwide, kids' involvement with modern technology and gadgets is extremely concerning as we are sure that all those video games, smartphones, and YouTube videos are isolating our kids from their surroundings.
Well, let's be fair, every generation of parents is concerned about "kids these days." The focus point changes every several decades, though. For your kids, those are gadgets; for you, it was probably the TV. Before Television, everyone was obsessed with radio drama series, jazz music, etc. There was a time when kids' books were seriously referred to as "futile and misguiding."
And guess what, every generation is at the same time particularly proud of how much time they spent playing outside in their wooden playhouses, spending time with their friends, and exploring the real world.
Does it mean that whatever is happening today is a natural course of time, and you should not be worried about your kids` screentime? Not really. Technology has really leaped whiting the past couple of decades and become as accessible to users of any age and the social group almost without any limitation.
It means that your kids may indeed spend much less time outdoors or playing with their friends than you did. However, pretend play did
not go anywhere. It has digitalized and moved into the universe of online gaming, social media, etc.
However, evolution does not always mean perfection. Pretend play that is concentrated around gadgets and screen time loses many essential features such as live communication and the development of social skills, physical activity, and practical learning.
Not to mention the fact that it is hardly "unstructured" that way, as your kid's every move and action is carefully observed and directed by the platforms` algorithms.
That is why, although pretend play does not go anywhere since it is a natural and essential development stage of any human being, parents need to take the lead at some point and help their kids discover and enjoy its full benefits.
Why Is Pretend Play so Important, and What Do Kids Learn from It?
You don't have to be a professional educator to know that the best way to teach your kids something or to make them do their chores is through a game.
The rooms are getting cleaned much faster when it is a treasure hunt for hidden candy or archaeological research. It is much easier to learn about tools and paint when you help your parents build an outdoor playhouse, aka your Bat Cave or fairy castle. The second you manage to turn chores and learn into quests and exciting adventures, kids start soaking information like little sponges.
It is one of the main functions of pretend play we all know about. However, there is much more to "goofing around" than you may think:
- A way to face and overcome fears. Have you ever noticed how much kids love to play doctors, dentists, police, or firefighters? In fact, such games are the most powerful and efficient therapy sessions your kid may get to overcome their fears and stressful situations. While one kid is holding a plastic syringe and another is sitting calmly in the chair waiting for their shot, they actually work out one of the kids` main fears and develop the necessary confidence to make sure that the next visit to the doctor's office is much less likely to end up with a tantrum. The same is true about playing police, firefighters, or any other role naturally connected with stressful situations. Placing themselves into the shoes of responsible people or letting their siblings and friends turn the outdoor playhouse into a hospital or police station and cure them or find their missing teddy bears, kids learn to accept, acknowledge and overcome the stress.
- A way to discover something new. Another game you may pretty often notice in your outdoor playhouse involves dolls, stuffed animals, and other toys acting like humans. Your kids don't actually act as characters in the game but lead their dolls and put them into different situations. It is another crucial type of pretend game that allows kids to explore new interests or work out unusual social situations in the safest manner. Instead of putting themselves into the maelstrom, they take a safe distance while remaining in control of the situation.
- Self-development and development of social skills. Pretend play is often pretty adventurous, especially when a kids playhouse is involved. It instantly turns into a headquarters, a supervillain's lair, or a castle guarded by a dragon. On the one hand, it encourages kids to move more and spend more time outside. At the same time, such games help children discover their physical capabilities, encourage them to develop new skills, and allow them to test and push their limits in the safety of your backyard. Moreover, it teaches them to pick their battles, communicate and collaborate while discovering the social skills they will carry throughout their whole lives. If you hit your friend, he will probably go home or banish you from his playhouse forever (which is about a week, but still!). If you climb on the roof of your wooden playhouse, you may fall down and get a nasty scratch on your knee or, what's worse, hear a long talk from parents about safety. All these and more are the essential knowledge we call "common sense." But it does not appear from thin air. It comes from the experience of pretend play!
Here is how a Playhouse Helps Get the Most out of Pretend Play
So, what did we learn until now? Pretend play is an essential and natural development phase that will always take place whether we are talking about playing outdoors with friends or playing online with the same friends.
However, the uncontrollably fast pace of technology development takes a very important aspect of real experience and actual physical development out of pretend play.
In other words, the good old playing outdoors cannot and should not be replaced by modern technology and digital communication.
But what can we do? Take the gadgets away forcefully and limit the screen time? It may look like the easiest way to bring kids back offline. However, such ultimative methods can cause rebellion now or later in the future when kids become teenagers.
Any kids behaviour expert or a teacher will tell you that the best way to get kids involved with a new experience or try an alternative is to redirect their attention and slowly but surely replace the activity they are used to with a new experience.
Getting an outdoor playhouse is a perfect example of how this approach will work for your kids and encourage live pretend play. Your kids will naturally spend less time with their gadgets when they go with you to the utility store to pick up paints and stencils to decorate their wooden playhouse. Then they will be too busy planning the design, moving the little chairs and tables around, and imagining how cool it will look.
Here are some more ways you can create a perfect atmosphere for pretend play in your kids playhouse:
- Let them lead the way. Ask them about some decoration details or a choice of colors in their wooden playhouse. Try to find out why the superhero's origin story or the concept of the doll's fashion brand is placed in the playhouse. Giving you the answers, kids will develop their imagination, come up with new ideas and inspiration on the way and get even more excited about their created universe;
- Provide the props and materials. Doctors will need their tools, actors and fashion designers have to create costumes, and a mad scientist's breakthrough is impossible without a microscope or reagents. You may support and encourage your kids pretend to play, providing them with the necessary props and tools or inspiring imagination and creativity by finding DIY projects for them;
- Let them enjoy. Spending time with your kids in their outdoor playhouse may be so much fun, but you will need to step down at some point and let them be on their own. No matter how foolish, annoying, or weird the pretend play may seem to you, at some point, it is essential to let kids explore the situation on their own at its full, get the most out of it and pass to the next step naturally without constant corrections and time limits. However, make sure they are safe and sound in their wooden playhouse.
Those hours spent in the wooden playhouse or galloping around the backyard may teach your kids much more than hours of curriculum activities and educational videos or books. In a world that is getting more and more structured and scheduled, it is essential to allow your kids to go with the flow of their own imagination and simply enjoy themselves.
Let's be fair; it is the ability we all lack sometimes. So why not buy a new outdoor playhouse and help your kids learn and develop this superpower today?
"Children need the freedom and time to play. Play is not a luxury. Play is a necessity."
- Kay Redfield Jamison
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Written by WholeWoodPlayhouses