Imaginative Play an Important Milestone 

pretend play
Imaginative play

Our FOCUS today is putting the spotlight on Imaginative Play / Pretend Play 

​Imaginative Play  – Range from pretending to feed teddy the biscuit to elaborate lost worlds created under the sheets over furniture and cardboard tubes as telescopes!

Speech Pathologist
Dr Sandra McMahon PhD

Why exactly is Imaginative Play such an Important Milestone?


The emergence of imaginative play and the changes in how this presents follows developmental milestones. If parents are aware of the stages and ages of the different types of pretend play they can adapt their play to match where a child’s play skills are at. By playing at the same stage and just one step ahead of your child’s play developmental level you will provide fantastic learning opportunities – Opportunities to boost social skills, understanding and speaking!



Imaginative Play helps young children to experiment with feelings in a safe way.

For young children and for many late talking 2-year-olds, “talking” about emotions (being happy, excited, scared or worried) is beyond their speaking skills. However, they can “work through” many of these emotions during their play. From as early as 12-18 months toddlers are literally expanding their distance from the adults. Playing the simple “bye mummy” with a wave or a word as they toddler hides behind a couch or doorway is the emergence of pretend play. They then show the excitement of popping back out saying “Hi”!

As children develop toddlers can experiment with feelings about upcoming events or events that they have recently encounted. Using their toys and figurines they might pretend play “traumatic events” (e.g., falling down/off bike), everyday events that might be overwhelming (going shopping, going to the doctors), exciting events (a birthday party).

Overlaying the emotion words during pretend play can help children build their language skills to be able to express their emotions – a very necessary life-skill.

Imaginative play lays the foundations to play with others in socially appropriate ways. It can build co-operation and empathy skills (caring about how others feel) skills.

Young toddlers move from “parallel play” (i.e.., playing by themselves in the room or just next to others with similar toys) to more “team” playing. Pretend play can boost the social interactional skills needed to play with others. Children may begin by assigning roles (e.g., Dad is the scary dragon that you run away from), “I’ll be the mummy and you can be the baby”, “I be superman and you be Spiderman”. Taking on roles helps young children start to see the world from various perspectives. This may take many years however pretend play over many years builds these social communication skills of “thinking” that someone else may “feel” differently about things than they personally feel.

pretend play
Understanding imaginative play


Imaginative Play involves lots of 

  • Problem sovlving
  • Requires planning,
  • Requires understanding of cause & effect,
  • and more complex thinking about the world (rather than the reality of here and now).

For example, if a toddler wishes to play fireman he first will need to find the costume, a rope or tube for a hose, maybe a box for the truck. Older toddlers or preschool aged children may enjoy making caves or forts with sheet, chairs and blankets. This can take planning and problem solving (how to stop the sheet sliding off, how to make a door way, what to use for the walls). Children may need to listen and understand the directions or instruction offered by other children or adults.

speech and language


Pretend play provides more opportunities for language development.

Whether your child is talking to themselves, their dinosaur or a peer, they are creating opportunities to express exclamations, words and sentences. Imaginative play is great for building early narrative or story telling skills. Making the noises of the creatures (growling, meowing) or vehicles (sirens, engines) or exclamations (oh No, Uh Oh) is the beginning of expressing pretend play. Using the words of the characters (Princess, Wizard, pirate), props (telescopes, sword, wand) and their actions (running, hiding, saving, rescuing) builds vocabulary. From here you can help sentences and stories grow. If the adult commentates the stories as they play the child will hear and experiment with the sounds and words themselves overtime.

Imaginative Play 
Information by Dr Sandra McMahon

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