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How Role Play Helps Children’s Development: Everything You Need to Know!

image of two children playing with a toy stethoscope

Albert Einstein famously stated that imagination is far more important than knowledge. As a society, we know about the importance of using our creativity and imagination to experiment and solve problems.

But how important is creativity, specifically in the form of role playing, for child development? Can pretending to be a certain character or in a certain situation in early years effectively teach children how to navigate our world?

Read on to understand the importance and benefits of role playing and learn how to assist your little one in making the most of this form of play.

What is role play?

While there are many ways to interpret role play, the easiest way to describe it is as learning about the world and yourself with the use of imaginative play.

Role play can have many forms and starts as young as toddler age when children start to re-enact or mimic behaviours they pick up from their parents or caretakers. Have you ever seen a toddler pick up a remote and hold it next to their ear? That’s them mimicking you being on the phone, for instance.

As children get older, role play becomes more imaginative and creative The equipment becomes more elaborate as the situations that are being mimicked become more complex as well. 

Different types of role play

There are 4 main types of role playing:

1 – Real-life play

During this form of play, your child might be using real-life situations, such as being at a supermarket or looking after an interactive doll, as their foundation.

2 – Occupational role play

This is a great form of play where children step into the shoes of their role models by pretending to be a firefighter, builder, policeman, teacher, doctor or any other job that might excite them.

3 – Fantasy play

During fantasy play, children use their imagination to the fullest by pretending to be a prince/princess, a witch/wizard or sometimes even a mythical animal such as a unicorn or even a dragon or monster.

4 – Toy-based (disassociated) play

This form of play can be performed by children alone or in a group. But it is mostly associated with individual children and is performed with the use of toys or dolls. It can entail purely playing with toys or using any of the above forms of role playing by attaching an occupation or fantasy persona to the specific toy.

What are the benefits of role play for children?

While most children would describe role play as a fun experience, it has a lot of beneficial impacts on the way our children learn and explore the world in order to become successful and functioning adults.

Role play helps children become more confident, use their imagination and creativity and engage in physical activity, which ultimately has a positive influence on these parts of child development.

Improves language and communication skills

As children interact with one another and take on different roles, they are trying to express themselves freely with the use of a colourful vocabulary. Through this, they learn from each other, which has a positive impact on their listening abilities and giving other people attention.

Sometimes children will start developing language that is completely based on fantasy or enhance their language skills by using words they picked up from adults. This ultimately enhances communication skills and encourages children to lead conversations in real-life situations.

Encourages physical development

As role play can be a very active experience, children get to improve their physical development and motor skills. On top of that, they train their hand and eye coordination by using toys, tools, or doing everyday chores such as cleaning or cooking.

Develop emotional and social skills

Thanks to the imaginary play side of role playing, children get to put themselves in someone else’s shoes, which enables them to develop great empathy and understanding for other people. In addition to that, they learn how to express their emotions and experience to others.

Setting up play with other children helps little ones to develop social skills such as taking turns, conflict resolution, coordinating roles and communicating effectively, all while making new friends.

Grow intellectual skills

Children will attempt to include scenarios such as reading or writing on boards, making shopping lists or paying at the grocery store as they get older, which ultimately have a positive impact on our children’s mathematic and literacy skills. They also get to understand the concepts of comparisons, space, time and different measures.

Improve creativity and imagination

As role play is mostly child-led, our little ones get to explore their imagination and creativity to the fullest. They will set up the scene with role play equipment, decide which roles everybody takes on, which scenario will get played out and what the outcome will be.

This increases the child’s capacity to create scenarios, sparks creativity and helps children to learn about real-life situations in a safe environment.

Good imagination in the early years has the potential to assist with an open mind in a real environment as an adult and supports cognitive flexibility.

As role play often provides new situations, children learn to challenge their problem-solving skills and get creative to come up with solutions or to understand a new situation. For instance, by imagining there is a new baby on the way, you can prepare your child for the arrival of a sibling and they won’t feel so overwhelmed as this new situation presents itself in real life.

FAQs about role play and children’s development

How can I encourage role play?

Probably the easiest way that encourages children to engage in role playing is by providing role play equipment. This can be toys, dolls, or a little home corner that resembles a house. It can also be as simple as providing them with a pen and paper or taking on a character yourself or reading to them in a different voice.

The most important part of role play is to let your children’s imaginative play to be led by the children themselves. When children express themselves freely and experiment, is when they will truly reap the benefits of role playing.

How can I make role play inclusive?

Including different cultures, abilities and lifestyles in role playing are vital to encouraging a child’s self-esteem and supporting them in making sense of their personal world and experiences.

Remember that the whole purpose of role play is to equip children with the ability to appropriately respond and participate in daily or even extraordinary situations that may occur in their lifetime.

Including different cultures and social backgrounds in role playing is another important step in inclusive role play, enabling children from different cultural backgrounds to include their lifestyles.

What is good role play equipment?

Below are some great examples of equipment children can use for role pay:

  • Costumes for fantasy or real-life roles
  • Toys and dolls
  • House corners
  • Occupational-specific equipment (nursing and doctor materials, builder’s hat, chalkboard etc.)
  • Dolls prams and pushchairs
  • Kitchen or supermarket play sets

Support your child’s development with Play Like Mum!

Providing your child with fun toys and accessories is a great way to encourage children to learn about their world.

With Play Like Mum’s dolls prams and dolls prams accessories, your child can put themselves into your shoes and imagine what it is like to be a parent or caretaker in a fun way.We offer prams for all ages, including doll prams for 1 to 3-year-olds, dolls prams for 4 to 7-year-olds, and doll prams for 8 to 12-year-olds so your child will be able to use their imagination throughout their whole childhood!

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