Imitation play in childhood: how “playing at being someone else”

Symbolic play or imitation play is one of the most important types of games developed in childhood and with which children learn the most. It is based on putting into practice what they observe around them, including the interaction between people. Check out more articles on our site.

Through this type of game, children acquire the social norms of the world in which they live, while playing other roles, favoring the consolidation of their mental representations and developing their own abilities.

We explain to you from what age imitation play develops and why it is essential in childhood.

How and when does the imitation or symbolic game take place?

Imitation play , also called symbolic , make-believe or imaginative play, is the second type of play that appears in child development , after functional play.

While the latter appears in the first months of the baby’s life, imitation play usually appears during the second year .

The imitation game is characterized by the use of abundant symbolism . Thus, the child produces scenes from real life and modifies them according to her needs or interests.

In this type of game, the symbols acquire their meaning in the activity itself; for example, pieces of paper can become banknotes, a banana can become a telephone , a cardboard box can become a house, etc.

When the child practices symbolic play , he turns many of his toys into a support for carrying out the game itself.

In symbolic play, the child exercises the social roles of the activities that surround him ; for example, he plays at being a doctor , a teacher , a cook , a clerk … What he is actually doing, through the game, is submitting reality to his desires and needs .

Benefits of imitation play in children

The benefits of symbolic play are observed at all levels of child development, since it stimulates the physical, mental, emotional and social development of children.

We analyze it in detail:

Physical development

Through play and manipulation of toys, children develop their motor skills , both gross and fine motor skills.

The first refers to the skillful use of the body as a whole as well as coordination, while fine motor skills allow for much more precise movements of the hands, fingers or wrists, thanks to the coordination of bones, muscles, nerves and tendons. Similarly, fine motor skills also allow the work of the tongue, lips, toes and feet.

psychic development

Free and undirected imitation play (as play should always be in childhood) enhances children’s self-confidence, self-esteem and autonomy, since they can become who they want , without impositions, labels or roles of gender.

In addition, while playing at being someone else, they learn to structure their thinking and to understand and assimilate the environment around them.

affective development

Symbolic play allows children to express their own feelings , fears and emotions. In addition, while imitating other people, they are also able to fake different moods , each time giving a different meaning to the game (now I’m sad, now I’m tired, now I’m angry, now I’m scared, now I’m in pain and I want the doctor give me syrup…)

Social development

The benefits of imitation play in the child’s social development are especially notorious, since rehearsing different roles and representing scenes that they observe in their daily lives favors multiple aspects:

– They acquire useful knowledge for their daily life.

– Helps them understand the environment around them and how things work.

– They learn and improve social behaviors, putting into practice the attitudes they observe from adults in their daily lives.

– By playing different roles , children practice basic social skills, whether they play with other children or on their own . Some of these skills are empathy, assertiveness, communication , active listening, teamwork or conflict resolution .

– Special mention deserves the subject of language , because whether they play alone or in company, children do not stop verbalizing what they do, favoring their linguistic development and the acquisition of new vocabulary.

In short, symbolic or imitation play brings innumerable benefits to the comprehensive development of the child, while enhancing their creativity, curiosity and imagination, essential requirements for good learning .

How to boost imitation play

As we mentioned in the first point, symbols are very important in the development of this type of game , although it is not necessary to have sophisticated toys to get into the role of another.

Everyday objects like dad’s shoes, mom’s clothing, a costume made with a piece of cloth or a few kitchen accessories are enough to encourage children’s unlimited imagination.

Of course, physical toys will continue to be among their favorite entertainments. Thus, dolls, houses, kitchens, supermarkets, tool cases… become wonderful toys to enhance this type of game .

However, from the age of two, many children begin to be able to imagine eating from an imaginary dinner plate, cradling an imaginary baby, entering an imaginary house, flying in their spaceship… His symbolic imagination is amazing!

Given the characteristics of the child’s social development at this age , it is likely that at first symbolic play is practiced alone or in parallel with other children. But approximately from the age of three, the little ones will begin to enjoy playing with others, dividing up roles or roles and enriching themselves with the benefits of playing in company.

We also remember that parents are always the best toy for our children, and playing with them at “being someone else” is a nice way to enjoy together and encourage them to become whoever they want to be.

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