Role play involves imagination, and …
“Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited to all we now know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand.”
When children do role plays, they naturally become someone or something else. Role play stimulates their imagination and “enhanc(es) their social development, encourag(es) friendship through cooperation, listening and turn taking”. Therefore, role play is a really vital activity for our children. It is no surprise that child therapists use play therapy to help children process and cope with difficult situations and experiences.
Our children can learn many skills and attitudes during role play, they learn how to be co-operative (teamwork) and be empathetic with others. They can learn to express all their feelings: it is very interesting to see what they catch up from only observing us or the world around them! You can tell by observing them role playing what they’re going through, what they struggle with and what they are processing at the moment. They also can learn about other cultures and improve their language and movement skills.
During role plays our children can re-experience school activities like literacy and numeracy. In the playing shop, our children can “encompass all the aspects of the curriculum”. They can learn about money, about politeness and the right way to ask questions and respond etc. Role play can help our children to make sense of their world.
In her article “Role Play in Early Years Settings“, Julie Meighan points out the importance for preschools to “provide children with the opportunity to develop their imagination” through role plays. But in order to make this happen in the most natural way, we need to let the child take the lead so that they can be creative without us interfering. We also need to give them space and time to play.
“Imaginative play not only aids intellectual development but also improves children’s social skills and their creativity. In addition it gives children a chance to play out events that they have observed or experienced in real life.” And this means also situations they might have some problems to deal with. In fact, role plays can help to “explore moral issues and problems safely”.
I’m always amused when I see and hear my children having role plays and imitating a grown up, saying the things we use to tell them. By interiorizing our roles they become little adults, and I think that by playing, they get to understand us better.
Also, by getting into the future or the past, the role play permits to visit or re-visit places and moments our children need to handle. They can travel anywhere, in the real world or in a very fictional one, where people have special powers or things just are not like normal…
Role plays can also help our children to cope with change in the future: preparing for a move, a change of school etc. becomes easier through role play where they can visualize and literally play their role in the future!
Role play: with adults and children
What I find very interesting in role plays with my children, i.e. when I or other grown ups are involved in the play, is that we all have the opportunity to understand different points of view simply by acting. We become more open-minded, more flexible, empathetic.
If I play the role of a baby or a child and one of my children plays a parent or a teacher, I relive how it feels to be the “little one”. And sometimes we adults get to know what our children retain from what we teach them, how they feel about the way we talk to them, the way we behave.
During these role plays, when our children play our part, it’s like we were looking in a mirror. Personally, I find these role plays very helpful as I get to know what bothers my children, what they are afraid of or what they are particularly proud of. They have the opportunity to express their fears and needs without being judged. They can also exaggerate reactions: it’s only a play. Personally I would encourage parents to stimulate role play in their children, especially when they are going through difficult times.
Role play gives us the unique chance to meet our children in an imaginary world and to address problems in a way that helps us and our children not to get into the “parent-child” mode and keeps situations, words, behaviors in a more healthy perspective that allows us to address issues directly.
Have you played a role play with your children lately? What are your experiences with it?
Please read this interesting study about the “Role of pretend play in Children’s Cognitive Development” by Doris Bergen, professor of educational psychology at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio.
- When Your Preschool Child Struggles to Play With Others (education.com)
- Creativity and linguistic skills important for immersion in World of Warcraft (eurekalert.org)
- Your First Grader’s Social Life (education.com)