Pretence and Socio-dramatic Play
Pretence and socio-dramatic play are perhaps the most common types of play. As well as dressing-up and role-playing (fantasy and real-world), this type of play includes all forms of pretence, arguably including playing with pets.
It typically emerges in children during their second year as solitary pretence play, then evolves into dressing-up and the child pretending he is someone or something else. By 4/5 years of age, it becomes co-operative and social, involving role-play and developing stories. Two aspects of this kind of play are often a cause for concern, however, and involve play with imaginary friends and play with guns. Studies have shown that children’s ability to distinguish fantasy from reality is not compromised by having imaginary friends; on the contrary, it contributes to developing imagination and narrative skills.
Gun play, like rough-and-tumble, is easily distinguishable from real aggression, in the same way that Tom and Jerry cartoons are easily distinguished from horror movies. High-quality pretend play has repeatedly been shown to be very closely associated with cognitive, social and academic development. Studies have reported the effect of pretence play on deductive reasoning and ‘theory of mind’ (the basis of children’s developing social understanding), and on improved ‘self-regulation’ among young children who are prone to be highly impulsive.