When I buy Toys online should I think about Pretend Play?


Hape-KitchenThere are many things we take for granted when being a parent.  We are now encased in technology believing that technology will serve us in all facets of our lives.  With our children, we see kids as young as 12 months poking and prodding iPads, iPhones and Blackberrys and some exclaim “How cute, just like us”.   The problem is that there is no empirical evidence as to whether this kind of play is actually good or bad for young developing minds.  The kids just aren’t old enough yet.

Here in Australia, Jordy Kaufman, director of the BabyLab at Swinburne University in Melbourne, is exploring the impact of the use of technology on children aged two to five. BabyLab – note the hi-tech inter capital – is Australia’s first infant cognitive neuroscience laboratory, and Kaufman got the idea for his research while observing his son, then five, playing with an iPod Touch.  “It was so intuitive to him, I thought: there is something important going on here and we need to learn what effects this is having on learning and attention, memory and social development.” We’re expecting the study to be published later this year, but importantly, this study will not be able to assess the impact of this technology on these children as elderly, in their forties, thirties, twenties, or even teens.  They just haven’t been around that long to assess the impact in a scientific way.

There is, however, one type of play that has demonstrated benefits for development since the first child placed a leaf on a trickle of stream and pretended it was a boat off to an adventure. You did it as a child and it was fostered by your parents unknowingly as they didn’t have Apple as a crutch. Pretend Play. So what is pretend play and why should you consider pretend play when buying toys on line.

What is pretend play?

Educational toys, play kitchen, dress up?  What is pretend play for kids?

          In an article published in April 2014,“Fantasy and dramatic play grow children’s brains,” Dr Darcia Narvaez, Ph.D. in Moral Landscapes, explores what is regarded as Pretend Play. Dr Narvaez identifies two types of pretend play:

1.      Fantasy play

            Fantasy play usually begins around age 2 and peaks during the preschool years when children begin to interact with other children their own age and gain access to more toys and resources. Approximately 10-17% of all pre-schoolers’ play behaviour can be grouped under this category. You can recognise this type of play by the child’s continuous verbalisation of a state of pretend, meaning the child does not stay completely in character and feels the need to continue explaining what he or she is pretending to be or do.  As a parent, this is where you ask your child “what’s going on here” and the child will explain the situation and then go back into the pretend world. This would include a play kitchen when playing with pretend food and kitchen toys.


Hape Gourmet Fridge

Pretend Play Fridge

2.      Sociodramatic play

            In sociodramatic play, the child will set out the guidelines for the pretend storyline.  Once set, the child is completely immersed in this story and does not typically emerge from character to restate that something is pretend. This usually takes the form of an extended social narrative and imitates story lines that the child has been exposed to: Warriors, Superman, Sleeping Beauty, a dog.

Is Pretend Play Healthy?

When considering purchasing toys on line such as kids play kitchen, wooden toys, is there a rational justification for these type of pretend play toys.  Studies show that both types of pretend play are good for children’s development for many reasons.

  • Social skills are fostered as children “engage in shared cooperative activities” (Rakoczy, 2006).
  • Children develop an appreciation for relationships with others, because pretending with others, even imaginary friends, requires the child to consider other people when creating his or her story.
  • Consider the language you hear when your child is in pretend play.  You’ll probably hear words that you didn’t expect.  Language that they have heard before but they could not form into conversations with you.

Pretend play lets kids initiate and sustain social relationships with peers. Kids form relationships when they say “Let’s pretend” and offer another child a role in the narrative (Lindsey & Colwell, 2013).

  • Sociodramatic play in particular improves emotional competence (Lindsey & Colwell, 2013).
  • Both contribute to cognitive development. Both help kids acquire new information about the world around them. By taking on new personas, children learn about perspective taking and understanding emotions of different types of people (Lindsey & Colwell, 2013). If a child is using a pretend tea set in a pretend play kitchen and having a tea party, it is assumed the cups have tea in them (when really they are empty), but if a cup is knocked over, the “spilled” tea must be cleaned up (Harris & Kavanaugh, 1993). This logical reasoning and keeping a train of thought are very important in cognitive development.

Pretend Play Tea


  • Thinking skills are also developed in pretend play as it provides your child with a variety of problems to solve. Whether it’s two children wanting to play the same role or searching for the just right material to make a roof for the playhouse, your child calls upon important cognitive thinking skills that he will use in every aspect of his life, now and forever in negotiation and mediation.
  • Does your child enjoy a bit of rough play? That’s catered for as well in pretend play! Some researchers in early brain development believe that this sort of play helps develop the part of the brain (the frontal lobe) that regulates behaviour. So instead of worrying that this type of activity will encourage your child to act out or become too aggressive, be assured that within a monitored situation, rough play can actually help your child learn the self-regulation skills needed to know how and when this type of play is appropriate.
  • Sociodramatic play fosters emotional regulatory skills because it involves highly emotional situations (for example, someone is sick or needs to be saved), letting children practice directing and negotiating action in such situations.  You will observe this when children are playing doctors and nurses or complex cooking in pretend kitchens.
  • Children learn to effectively express which emotions they are actually feeling, therefore building positive emotional expressiveness.  Children who engage in more sociodramatic play express more positive emotion (engagement, thoughtfulness, understanding), less negative emotion (selfishness, need for attention, anger) and score higher on tests of emotional regulation and emotional understanding (Lindsey & Colwell 2013). Overall, sociodramatic play can improve a child’s emotional development from a very young age and lead to healthier emotional relationships later in life.

Can Toys play a part in Healthy Pretend Play?

Pretend play is all about nurturing the imagination. In pretend play, the simpler the better. Toys, combined with normal household objects can provide a great platform for pretend play that will foster all the benefits outlined above for your child.

There are a vast range of toys that can promote and assist in pretend play.  Hape has been producing high quality pretend play wooden toys.   Whether it is sushi set, patio set, gourmet fridge or a cash register.   One of the benefits of guided pretend play is that as a parent you can influential on breaking down a stereotype.  Girls can play with garage, just as much as a young boy can cook up a storm in a pretend kitchen.

As high quality wooden toys, Hape toys are perfect for being passed along from sibling to sibling and then to cousins and friends.  The quality will last and your child won’t have to pretend that the toy isn’t broken.

Another advantage of Hape pretend play wooden toys is that they are able to be used in conjunction with normal everyday goods.  We recommend having a prop box filled with objects to spark your preschooler’s fantasy world. You might include:

  • Large plastic crates, cardboard blocks, or a large, empty box for creating a “home”
  • Old clothes, shoes, backpacks, hats
  • Old telephones, phone books, magazines
  • Cooking utensils, dishes, plastic food containers, table napkins, silk flowers
  • Stuffed animals and dolls of all sizes
  • Fabric pieces, blankets, or old sheets for making costumes or a fort
  • Theme-appropriate materials such as postcards, used plane tickets, foreign coins, and photos for a pretend vacation trip
  • Shopping receipts for cash register play.


          Pretend play is proven to be healthy for your child.  Whether your child is a pre-schooler engaging in fantasy play or older children with sociodramatic play.  Both promote social skills important for development and need to be encouraged.   Most popular are pretend kitchen and pretend garden, but all provide hours of fun…. away from the technology.  And that’s a good thing.  Let’s not pretend about that.


Lindsey, E., & Colwell, M. (2013). Dance classes for toddlers. Pretend and phyiscal play: links to preschoolers’ affective social competence. Merrill-Palmer Quarterly ,59(3), 330-360. Retrieved fromhttp://muse.jhu.edu.proxy.library.nd.edu/journals/merrill-palmer_quarterly/v059/59.3.lindsey.html

Sutherland, S., & Friedman , O. (2013). Just pretending can be really learning: children use pretend play as a source for acquiring generic knowledge. Developmental Psychology , 49(9), 1660-1668. Retrieved from http://web.ebscohost.com.proxy.library.nd.edu/ehost/[email protected]&vid=1&hid=4107&bdata=JnNpdGU9ZWhvc3QtbGl2ZQ==

Rakoczy, H. (2006). Pretend play and the development of collective intentionality. Cognitive Systems Research, 7(2), 113-127. Retrieved fromhttp://www.sciencedirect.com.proxy.library.nd.edu/science/article…

Hoff, E. (2005). Imaginary companions, creativity, and self-image in middle childhood. Creativity Research Journal, 17(2), 167-180. Retrieved fromhttp://web.ebscohost.com.proxy.library.nd.edu/ehost/pdfviewer/[email protected]2&vid=2&hid=4201

Harris , P., & Kavanaugh , R. (1993). Toddler toysand toddler’s understanding of pretense. Monographs of the Society for Research in Child Development,58(1), 1-107. Retrieved fromhttp://www.jstor.org/discover/10.2307/1166074?uid=3739840&uid=2134&uid=2&uid=70&uid=4&uid=3739256&sid=21103305932093

Kidd, E., Rogers P., & Rogers, C. (2010) The personality correlates of adults who had imaginary companions in childhood. Psychological Reports, 107(1), 163-172. Retrieved fromhttp://www.amsciepub.com.proxy.library.nd.edu/doi/pdf/10.2466/02.04.10.PR0.107.4.163-172. Digital Marketing