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Is Fantasy Play Important For Children?


Children love to pretend they are Harry Potter or Rapunzel or Elsa or R2D2. Don’t they? New research by Lillard at the University of Virginia suggests that younger children are more interested in practical tasks than fantasy play. This is not to say they don’t enjoy fantasy play, but new research found that children were more interested in helping than fantasy. For example, they would like to cut up vegetables, feed a real baby and so on, rather than pretend to do so.  The research also found that children learn better from reading about humans doing things, rather than talking animals.

Studies of traditional societies outside modern Western societies, found that children raised in farming villages, herding groups and so on rarely fantasy play. They tend to play with real tools, almost as practice for adult work. 

In the Western world, this is less likely to happen. Play is often organised – at preschool, play dates and so on.  Helping with adults activities can be enjoyable to younger children. But obviously this needs to be handled with care.

Lilliard also suggests that if younger children want to help with activities but are not allowed to, when they are asked to help later on, they may rebel!

Lilliard and her colleagues looked at more than forty years of research and found that established ideas, such as fantasy play is beneficial to children’s social and mental health are not necessarily true.

They also found that the idea that children aged 3 – 6 prefer to pretend to play, such as being a superhero or using play figures is unrealistic.

A recent study of 100 American children aged 3 – 6 years found that the children frequently wanted to perform actual activities rather than pretend to perform them.

Play is important for a child’s mental, physical, emotional and social development, but we have to carefully consider what type of play is important. 

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[26/01/2022 21:58:00]