Understanding Pretend Play

March 05, 2014


Did you know that pretend play skills develop much the same way as walking and talking, through a developmental set of steps? It’s hard to believe but there is some order to the chaos of play. Here’s a mini overview of what to expect from your kids:

2 years: children should be beginning to pretend one object is another (so a remote is a phone, a cup is a hat, a block is a bus) and pretending common experiences (pretending to sleep, take pictures, eat with toy food) as well as novel ones (doctor play). The exploratory play of younger children evolves into curiosity and use of objects/toys  at this age.

3 years: children’s imaginations should be developing. Play skills evolve to contain more fantasy, details (so kids get all the lids for pots when cooking, find the toy bus and the people that fit in them) as well as more steps. So when playing, several steps should be happening more fluidly (1. Oh no, their baby falls down, needs a Band-Aid, and feels better; 2. The car needs gas, gets it, and drives away).

4 years: children are very busy now! A key feature here is planning – kids should be developing ideas before they start to play or build (Let’s go to a store). They should be using pretend voices for their toy figures, taking on more than one role (I’m the mom and the baby) and shifting between ideas from themselves and others with greater speed and interest.

5 years: by this age, I like to say that kids are professionals at playing. They have ideas, are creative and explore endless possibilities in their play. Play sequences become much more intricate as planning, organizing and carrying out ideas reign. Kids at this age may become rule focused (No, no only kids with swords can come in this castle) and should be able to tell stories during and after playtime.

Just one little reminder, as with all development, there is a range in these expectations and no definite borders. So keep on playing with your kids and watch their ideas flow.

Next time, I’ll share some toy and book suggestions for your ever-growing children. Thanks as always for reading. Till the next post, take care.

Vanessa D’Auria is a licensed speech-language pathologist providing home-based services in Brooklyn, Queens and Manhattan. For more information about Vanessa, visit speechtherapyvanessadauria.com or to ask speech/language questions, email directly at speechtherapynyc@gmail.com.


Vanessa will be holding an Early Speech and Language Workshop Sunday, March 30th 3-4:30 at Caribou Baby, Greenpoint/Williamsburg Map Price: $10 per family. To learn more about the workshop click here.


Top Photo: Milk Magazine

Leave a comment

Comments will be approved before showing up.