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What is the Importance of Pretend Play in Child Development?

How can pretend play act as an ally of healthy executive function development in young children?

According to pretend play in child development expert, Distinguished McKnight University Professor at the University of Minnesota, and Reflection Sciences Co-founder, Dr. Stephanie M. Carlson, “Play is about as ‘blueprinted’ a behavior as you can have in terms of basic survival and reproduction.”

Play, which by definition has no immediate purpose other than recreation, is vital for both learning and development in young children. Children from all varieties of religions, socio-economic statuses, cultures, and backgrounds participate in play. It is something that is unscripted, active, and occurs naturally in all corners of the globe. Carlson’s recent research findings suggest that pretend play can have immediate, beneficial effects on a child’s executive function, the skillset that that allows for conscious control of thoughts, actions, and emotions. She says, “[play] can be construed as a waste of time. But the fact that it’s so universal has led us researchers to take it quite seriously.”

According to Gayla Marty, University of Minnesota’s College of Education and Human Development (CEHD) Connect Magazine writer, in today’s world, children play an estimated eight hours less each week than children did just 30 years ago.

“Play gets contrasted with learning, and because we want children to learn more, we cut playtime. But by doing that, we remove a powerful pedagogical tool from our toolkit,” says Dr. Megan Gunnar, Regents Professor of Child Development and Director of the Institute of Child Development. “Instead, smart educators learn to harness the power of play, teaching children concepts through guided play while children throw themselves wholeheartedly into the experience.”

Research efforts at the University of Minnesota have been matched by the efforts of the Minnesota Children’s Museum. The two organizations have collaborated to develop the “7 C’s of pretend play”, describing the skills that children gain through this activity: creative and critical thinking, (self) control, confidence, collaboration, communication, and coordination. The museum, which is scheduled to reopen in June of 2017, will have 10 new exhibits intended to support pretend play and skill development for children of all ages.

Read the full article from the CEHD Connect Magazine here.