When kids pretend to be their favorite superhero, it may look like sheer fun at first glance, but experts say that imaginative play also benefits children in a number of substantial ways.
“From building confidence and self-perception to offering children an opportunity to practice communication and language skills, pretend play is vital to child development,” says Keri Wilmot, a pediatric occupational therapist and an expert contributor to TheGeniusofPlay.org.
How can creative play help your child thrive? Here are five important benefits, according to The Genius of Play, a national movement providing families with the information, inspiration and hands-on ideas they need to make play an important part of their child’s day.
1. Enhanced literacy: Some of the same mental connections that take place when a child is first learning to read are employed in the world of pretend. Whether it’s a banana that becomes a phone or a towel being used as a cape, grasping symbolism in the world of play can pave the way for children to better recognize that each letter of the alphabet represents a sound. Encourage kids to use the everyday objects and toys around them to build a world of creativity and fun.
2. Leadership skills: From a very young age, playtime experiences can have a major impact on the development of children’s leadership skills. In the case of superhero play, the act of taking on a powerful persona offers kids an opportunity to assert themselves and gain self-confidence, while creatively constructing their own story lines. Through play, parents, teachers and mentors can help foster these attributes in children.
3. Movement: Movement helps children hone their coordination, balance and motor skills. Associating exercise with fun can set a precedent for a lifetime habit. What’s more, physical activity encourages better eating and sleeping habits. Be sure your kids have a safe place to play indoors that lets them burn off all their energy. When the weather is nice, take the fun to the backyard or a nearby park, where the possibilities for pretend expand.
4. Perseverance: Known as the “Batman Effect,” a 2016 study published in “Child Development” found that kids stay better focused on a task when they are pretending to be their favorite superheroes or characters.
Through play, you can encourage your children to channel the bravery and perseverance of the superheroes they admire most, giving them the emotional tools needed to thrive in a challenging world.
5. Emotional development: Role play offers children an opportunity to explore their emotions, both good and bad, while building compassion. Children can channel frustration, anger, fear and triumph into the worlds, characters and storylines they create, learning to manage these emotions in healthy ways.
For more child development tips and play resources, visit TheGeniusofPlay.org.