March 9, 2023

The Power of Make-Believe: The Scoop on Pretend Play in Language Development

Laura Gencarella Speech Therapist in Charlotte, NC

Laura Gencarella
Owner, Speaking Sensory LLC

Speaking Sensory speech therapy session in Charlotte, NC

The Importance of Pretend and Symbolic Play in Language Development

Play is an essential part of childhood development. It allows children to explore the world around them, learn new skills, and develop their creativity. Pretend and symbolic play are two types of play that are particularly important for language development.

What is Pretend Play?

Pretend play is when children use their imaginations to create imaginary scenarios and roles. For example, pretending to be a doctor or a teacher. This type of play allows children to practice social skills, problem-solving, and creativity.

When children engage in pretend play, they enter into a world that is separate from reality. They can take on different roles, try out different behaviors and experiment with different emotions. Through this process, they learn how to interact with others while also expressing themselves.

For example, if a child pretends to be a doctor during pretend play, they might talk about what tools they need for their “surgery,” explain what they are going to do next based on what they have learned from watching real-life doctors perform surgeries. As they engage in these conversations with their peers or caregivers during the game, the child practices using complex vocabulary words related to medical procedures and scientific concepts.

What is Symbolic Play?

Symbolic play involves using objects or actions to represent something else. For example, using a block as a phone or an ice cube. This type of play helps children develop their understanding of symbols and language.

During symbolic play experiences such as playing house or setting up a tea party with dolls/soft toys etc., children use objects as props which represent something else- thereby building on their cognitive abilities by imagining things beyond what meets the eye. By engaging in symbolic play activities like these young learners learn how symbols work together through contextualization – making connections between objects and people/animals/things that would not otherwise be connected in everyday life.

For instance, if a child uses blocks as phones during symbolic playtime with friends or family members – he/she gains experience manipulating objects creatively while also building his/her vocabulary by inventing words for communication purposes within the game.

How do Pretend and Symbolic Play Help with Language Development?

Pretend and symbolic play provide many opportunities for children to practice language skills. Here are some ways they can help:

Vocabulary Development

During pretend and symbolic play activities like playing dress-up games or creating stories together- young learners often use new words in context based on what’s happening within the game scenario being played out at that moment.

For example: If two kids are playing restaurant games together; one may say “I’ll go get you some water” – which gives both players an opportunity to share vocabulary specific for food service industry such as “water”, “menu”, “order” etc., while also learning how these words fit into sentences correctly within context!

Grammar Practice

When playing pretend games with others or engaging in other forms of imaginative expression (e.g., drawing pictures), children must use proper grammar rules when communicating effectively- allowing them ample opportunities for practicing sentence structure & syntax which ultimately helps improve overall proficiency levels over time!

For instance: If kids are trying to write down dialogue between characters participating in role-playing sessions; they will need to think carefully about how each sentence should be structured so it makes sense within the larger narrative arc without breaking any grammatical rules along the way!

Narrative Skills

Pretend and symbolic play allow young learners ample opportunities for creating stories with beginning-middle-end structures that make sense within given contexts – helping them develop sequencing abilities necessary for storytelling over time!

For example: If kids are acting out scenes from books/movies/TV shows etc., then they will need good narrative skills so everyone involved understands who is doing what when & where – allowing them all feel more confident sharing ideas freely without fear of confusion arising due lack clarity around story elements involved at any given point within game-play settings being used at that time.

Social Interaction

Playing pretend games with others requires communication & social interaction among players involved- providing plenty chances build valuable social skills necessary effective communication over time!

Young learners must negotiate roles taking turns sharing ideas listening actively giving feedback constructively throughout gameplay experiences helping them learn how navigate various interpersonal dynamics involved when interacting others while also developing empathy towards those around them through shared experiences had together along way!


In conclusion, pretend and symbolic plays offer rich opportunities for language development in young learners as well as help foster creative thinking problem solving & social interaction among peers/family members alike! Encouraging these types of activities can help your child develop advanced vocabulary; improved grammar; enhanced narrative abilities; promote positive interactions plus much more! As parents/caregivers it our responsibility not only encourage but participate fully alongside little ones at every step way ensuring maximum learning potential reached possible through fun-filled immersive experiences had together! Did you learn the scoop on pretend play in language development?

Contact us today for a chance to put your child’s play skills to the test with a free consultation, or sign up for our child/caregiver developmental groups! We look forward to connecting with you soon!

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