Creative Child

Pretend Play and the Development of Creativity

Creativity makes the world a better, more beautiful, more friendly place. When you think creatively, you’re opening your heart and mind and you're relating to people as humans. Creativity is an incredibly human thing. - Jenn Maer
by Rebecca Eanes


Pretend play develops through relatively predictable stages.4 Between 12 and 18 months children perform one pretend action at a time such as pretending to eat. From 18-24 months children can perform simple pretend actions such as feeding a doll with a toy spoon or making a toy horse jump. They also begin to imitate adult actions. Between 24 to 30 months they can combine pretend actions together and act out a series of pretend actions. As imaginations grow, they can use less realistic objects in pretend play, such as a stick for a spoon. From 30-36 months, pretend play becomes more complex. A child may pretend to go to the store, for example, and can also pretend without an object. Between 3 to 5 years, children can make up things which do not exist, such as pretending to be a superhero or a pirate. They start to pretend with other children and take on different roles.


Here are 5 ways to encourage pretend play and nurture your child’s development of creativity:

  1. Provide open-ended toys to inspire creative play. Open-ended means that kids can play with it without instructions and the same toy can be used in several ways. Examples are  plain wood blocks, magnetic tiles, building bricks like Lego, realistic toy animals, wood peg dolls, miniature vehicles, cardboard boxes and an easel with art supplies.
  2. Have a crate of costumes for dress-up play. Role-playing is a wonderful way to develop creativity, so get in on the fun by dressing up with your child. Waiter and customer, doctor and patient, prince and princess, zookeeper and animal, there are countless ways to dress up and pretend!
  3. Present a problem for your child to solve. If your child regularly plays zookeeper, for example, then have an animal go missing or if he’s a pirate sailing on the open sea, throw in a storm. By adding these new elements that your child may not have thought of on their own, you’re enhancing their creative thinking skills as they figure out how to find the lost zebra or sail safely through the storm.
  4. Use books to enhance pretend play. It’s fun to act out “Going on a Bear Hunt” or “The Pigeon Finds a Hot Dog.” It’s a great way to bring a character to life and to get your child thinking more deeply about the story and characters.
  5. Join in with your child when possible. Yes, children will happily engage in pretend play on their own, but when you play with your child, you’re not only connecting deeply and building your bond, but you’re able to add in your own perspectives and creative ideas to the mix making it that much more fun and developmentally beneficial!





Rebecca Eanes is the bestselling author of multiple books including Positive Parenting: An Essential Guide, The Positive Parenting Workbook, and The Gift of a Happy Mother. She is the grateful mom of two boys. 


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