The first time your kid makes up a game, takes one thing and pretends it’s another, or invents a story in a world that’s not literally around them, it’s time for a congratulatory “I’ve not done too badly” parenting moment.
There’s something magical about these moments where your kid translates everything they’ve experienced, that you’ve taught them and shown them in the world, and applies it to their own make believe world.
Our toy kitchen has remained the go-to toy, featuring at some point everyday as our children play. It’s also a key feature of any play when other children visit. It’s a huge part of them emulating what they see happen in the home as daily activities. We’ve found toy hoovers and sweeping brushes to also be very popular. Amidst the lockdowns in 2020 creative emulation looked like building a laptop and keyboard out of mega blocks and having work calls and meetings.
But beyond them being super fun for the kids and pulling at the heart strings of the adults in their lives, from donning an apron to doing some pretend washing up, to mimicking animals, right through to creating intricate costumes and storylines, these games have amazing developmental benefits for children of all ages.
Different types of roleplay and what it does for your child’s development
Occupational role play – children pretending to take on occupational job roles such as, police, doctors and builders. It builds empathy, it’s fun and helps them see themselves in the world around them. Through occupational role-play, kids build communication and problem-solving skills.
Fantasy role play – children pretending to be superheroes or animals in a realm outside the normal world. It helps kids work out right from wrong and helps them aspire to courage and helping those in need. These particular games also help kids work out how to persuade and negotiate with the ‘good guys’ often the hot roles that are worth competing for. It helps build team-work when they don’t get the role or the dressing up costume they want as well.
Real-life role play – children act out real-life situations such as making a cup of tea, cooking dinner, pushing a pram or making phone calls to friends and family. In this, kids learn more about the real environment they interact with each day. This helps kids learn where the boundaries are of what to do and not do, and pick up fine motor skills that actually help them do the things they need to do in everyday life.
Miniature role play - children combine any of the fantasy, real-life or occupational role play into games with their toys. Instead of dealing with real people, it allows for total free expression where the child’s own creative ideas are not limited by other real people. It’s a great rehearsal space for dealing with real life situations and also creates great leadership skills as the child carries the story and actions of all the toys through the game.
5 reasons why role play and creative play are important for your child’s development
- Role play games help children of younger ages develop communication and language skills, as well as social skills as they interact with others
- As they get older, children use role play to explore or experiment with new ideas and situations, like different jobs (cops and robbers!) or going to the dentist - and work them out in a ‘safe’, pretend space
- The safe space of role playing also encourages children express and test out reactions to their own ideas and feelings
- Like the best improv classes, role playing helps kids practice empathy and responding with kindness to different perspectives
- Role play sparks creativity, resourcefulness, and imagination
Research even shows children often learn abstract concepts, like maths, quicker through play than being taught.
How can I help my child play creatively?
There are benefits to giving your children fewer toys
Having fewer toys Is a great way to help your children focus on fewer things and allow deeper interactions with toys before moving onto the next thing. This can be managed by just having fewer toys ‘out’ for a week, rather than no toys at all, but it will help them learn to go beyond superficial play and explore other creative ways to use these toys before moving onto new things.
There are other great reasons to advocate for fewer toys. This psychology study explores why it’s a better option to have fewer toys with real improvement in longevity of play.
The other benefit of fewer toys is less waste. Check out what we wrote here about renting toys as a solution to having fewer toys that might just save the planet.
It’s okay for your children to be bored
‘Boredom is something we fear even as adults. But the truth is, boredom does wonders for children’s creativity. Boredom is what encourages children to try things in new ways, see a toy in a way they’ve not seen it before and play a different game than what they have done previously. Boredom is just the sign that you’ve reached a frontier of something that you think you know, but the challenge of always avoiding this with your kids – always giving them the next thing when that frontier is reached, is that they will only ever be play consumers. Boredom will strike once the toy or game give’s up all its ‘secret’s, but creative play requires children to use those ‘secret’s and apply them in a unique way or do something different with them. If you’re always moving them onto the next thing when boredom strikes, they’ll never get the chance to explore that.
Keep play for your children as non-prescriptive as possible
The key to encouraging creative play and great role play through dressing up outfits, is to offer the right tools to help sow the seeds for a game of the kid’s own making.
Lots of costumes and toys on the market have evolved to become extremely detailed and specific in nature - but the problem is, they leave very little to the kid’s imagination.
Instead, versatile toys and accessories that can be utilised in different ways give games more mileage - and keeps the toy chest from overspilling! The best toys and the best support you can give is non-prescriptive. Allow them to work out the game they want to play, you don’t need to figure it all out for them.Four great places to buy children’s role play and dressing up outfits
(Just so you know, we don’t earn any commission on these recommendations.)
1. The best walker for toddlers
Is it a pram? Is it a shopping trolley? A lawn mower? There’s no need to decide! A good old walker can be used as so many things. Go wooden and traditional to make it super versatile. We love this walker from Stoy
2. The best doctor’s dressing up outfit medical kit
Let’s be honest, if there’s one thing kids need practice of for the real world, it’s a trip to the doctor or dentist. But even better, the individual parts of such a kit can be repurposed in so many ways. The scissors make for great hairdressers dressing up equipment. The bag makes a great ‘summer holidays’ dressing up game. The medicine bottles can make cooking ingredients for a toy kitchen. Le Toy Van has an excellent doctors bag for children , and Aldi does a very good one on SpecialBuy every so often.
3. The best dressing up box essentials for children
Real world accessories, from glasses to cameras, binoculars to bags. These seem like simple things but can form the basis of all sorts of costumes with a little encouragement - think detectives, spies, safari-goers, shopping games! John Lewis always has lovely accessories, but also look at Melissa and Doug online. These glasses from Claire’s are an excellent example of something that’s brilliantly versatile for kids.
4. The best homeware and kitchen toys for children
Mini-me homeware accessories have limitless potential. As we said above,ou toy kitchen is probably the most-used toy in our family home and we’re probably not alone. Grown ups spend so much time in their kitchens, it only makes sense kids would do the same. IKEA do several iconic models, depending on how much room you have. (And check out this read for brilliant ways to upcycle it to suit your own home aesthetic. The accessories - toy dishes and wooden food - and other toy homeware, like watering cans and cleaning tools - will help children play out stories. Even plan a picnic for some teddy bears!