“The true sign of intelligence is not knowledge but imagination.” – Albert Einstein
Do you ever wonder what it would be like to be someone else? According to learning experts that’s a good thing – for pre-schoolers, at least. Pretend play is an opportunity for children to use their imagination and a few props to recreate social situations they have seen, heard about or experienced. Every week our preschool classes learn about a different theme or topic, and our pre-school teachers have been using pretend play as one of the ways for the children to engage with new ideas. One week the class was a doctor’s office, with a waiting area full of patients, a receptionist and doctors and nurses treating all kinds of ailments. Another week it became a busy grocery store where shoppers had to decide what to buy and have their goods rung up at the till. This week the children talked about how restaurants work and had an opportunity to set up their own restaurant, taking the roles of chefs, waitrons and customers.
While pretend play is clearly a lot of fun, it also has a range of educational benefits. The children use language and the new vocabulary they have learned to engage each other while playing. They also have to plan and solve problems together – where should the tables be? What outfits and props can we use? What roles need to be filled and how many of each? Very often counting is involved, such as counting how many cups of juice to serve to a table. The children also develop better understanding of social situations and interactions – what do you say when you need help at a grocery store, for example? Sometime it creates a safe, fun space to think about something scary like visiting the dentist or doctor.
Doing a complex activity together also demonstrates something important about working together. On the one hand, it can be hard – you have to wait your turn, you have to help set up and clean up, other children may not play the way you want them to. But on the other hand, you can achieve and experience something you couldn’t do on your own, like creating your own restaurant. By giving the children a taste of what it is like to imagine and create something together, we hope to inspire them to keep doing it when they grow up – to imagine great things in their community and beyond and to work together to achieve them.