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Definition

Pretend play involves some form of symbolic representation using objects or persons to ‘stand for’ something or someone else; includes simple object transformations, dressing up as someone else, imagining the presence of things or persons who are absent, creating and acting out fictional events or narratives; can be combined with any other types of play.

See also: Symbolic play

Weisberg, D. et al. (2013) Pretense, Counterfactuals, and Bayesian Causal Models: Why What Is Not Real Really Matters (Journal Article)

Abstract:

Young children spend a large portion of their time pretending about non-real situations. Why? We answer this question by using the framework of Bayesian causal models to argue that pretending and counterfactual reasoning engage the same component cognitive abilities: disengaging with current reality, making inferences about an alternative representation of reality, and keeping this representation separate from reality. In turn, according to causal models accounts, counterfactual reasoning is a crucial tool that children need to plan for the future and learn about the world. Both planning with causal models and learning about them require the ability to create false premises and generate conclusions from these premises. We argue that pretending allows children to practice these important cognitive skills. We also consider the prevalence of unrealistic scenarios in children's play and explain how they can be useful in learning, despite appearances to the contrary.

Date:
January 2013
Publisher or Journal:
Volume:
37
Page/s:
1368-1381
Synonyms:
  • Developmental outcomes
  • Learning
  • Literature review
  • Pretend play
  • Social cognition
  • Social-emotional
  • Symbolic play
Relevant age group/s:
Research discipline:

Weisberg, D. et al. (2016) Which Counterfactuals Matter? A Response to Beck (Journal Article)

Abstract:
Date:
January 2016
Publisher or Journal:
Volume:
40
Page/s:
257-259
Synonyms:
  • Developmental outcomes
  • Literature review
  • Pretend play
Relevant age group/s:
Research discipline:

White, R. et al. (2016) What would Batman do? (Journal Article)

Abstract:

This experimental research assessed the influence of graded levels of self-distancing – psychological distancing from one's egocentric perspective – on executive function (EF) in young children. Three- (n = 48) and 5-year-old (n = 48) children were randomly assigned to one of four manipulations of distance from the self (from proximal to distal: self-immersed, control, third person, and exemplar) on a comprehensive measure of EF. Performance increased as a function of self-distancing across age groups. Follow-up analyses indicated that 5-year-olds were driving this effect. They showed significant improvements in EF with increased distance from the self, outperforming controls both when taking a third person perspective on the self and when taking the perspective of an exemplar other (e.g., Batman) through role play. Three-year-olds, however, did not show increased EF performance as a function of greater distance from the self. Preliminary results suggest that developments in theory of mind might contribute to these age-related differences in efficacy. These findings speak to the importance of psychological distancing in the expression of conscious control over thought and action from a young age and suggest a promising new avenue for early EF intervention.

Date:
January 2016
Publisher or Journal:
Volume:
19
Page/s:
419-426
Synonyms:
  • Developmental outcomes
  • Experimental
  • Pretend play
  • Social cognition
  • Social-emotional
  • Executive function
Relevant age group/s:
Research discipline:

Whitebread, D. (2012) Developmental psychology and early childhood education: a guide for students and practitioners (Book)

Whitebread, D. (2012) The Importance of Play (Journal Article)

Abstract:
Date:
January 2012
Publisher or Journal:
Volume:
Page/s:
55
Synonyms:
  • Games with rules
  • Mental health
  • Object play
  • Physical health
  • Physical play
  • Pretend play
  • Symbolic play
  • Teacher/caregiver play
Relevant age group/s:
Research discipline:

Whitebread, D. et al. (2009) Play, cognition and self-regulation: What exactly are children learning when they learn through play? (Journal Article)

Abstract:

This paper explores the particular aspects of learning which might be supported through playful activity and reviews research and theory which link children’s play, and particularly pretence or symbolic play, to the development of metacognitive and self-regulatory skills. Three studies are reported, one observational and two experimental, which have explored this
relationship. The observational study involved the video-recording of 582 metacognitive or self-regulatory ‘events’ within Foundation Stage settings. The two experimental studies replicated in different learning domains the classic study of Sylva, Bruner and Genova (1976), which contrasted the problem-solving performance of 3- to 5-year-old children who had experienced a ‘taught’ and ‘play’ condition. Evidence from the present studies reported and other studies supports the view that play, and
particularly pretence or symbolic play, which might be with objects or other children, is particularly significant in its contribution to the development of children as metacognitively skilful, self-regulated learners. Evidence from the observational study indicated that child-initiated playful activities, in small groups without adult supervision, supported the greatest proportion of self-regulatory behaviours. The experimental studies suggested that the experience of the ‘play’ condition was particularly effective in preparing the children for effortful, problem-solving or creative tasks which require a high level of metacognitive and self-regulatory skill. Metacognitive and self-regulatory development is crucially important in the development of academic skills which involve intentional learning, problem-solving and creativity. An understanding of the relationship between pretend or symbolic play and self-regulation is also helpful in providing clear guidelines for adults working with young children as regards their role in supporting and encouraging play in educational contexts.

Date:
January 2009
Publisher or Journal:
Volume:
26
Page/s:
40
Synonyms:
  • Developmental outcomes
  • Learning
  • Metacognition
  • Pretend play
  • Self-regulation
  • Symbolic play
Relevant age group/s:

Whitebread, D. et al. (2012) Preschool children's social pretend play: supporting the development of metacommunication, metacognition and self-regulation (Journal Article)

Abstract:

This paper presents an overview of the conceptual, developmental and functional aspects of metacommunication in preschool children's social pretend play. While the relationship between the representational aspects of social pretend play and positive developmental outcomes is well researched, metacommunicaton in social pretend play remains a largely under-researched phenomenon. A definition of social pretend play is proposed leading to propositions as to its specific functions for young children's learning and development. In particular, it is hypothesised that the development of metacommunication during social pretend play may make an important contribution to the early development of metacognition and self-regulation. Having proposed these specific functions for metacommunication, the implications of this for adult involvement in naturally occurring social pretend play are discussed. Identifying more specifically the components of social pretend play which support specific aspects of learning can inform pedagogical innovations, and the realisation of the full educational potential of social pretend play. While this review highlights some important conceptual, developmental and pedagogical issues in relation to metacommunicaton in social pretend play, these aspects clearly require elaboration. Suggestions are made for further research on metacommunciation development, and the conditions which support its emergence and development.

Date:
January 2012
Publisher or Journal:
Volume:
1
Page/s:
197-213
Synonyms:
  • Developmental outcomes
  • Literature review
  • Metacognition
  • Pedagogy
  • Peers play
  • Pretend play
  • Self-regulation
  • Social cognition
Relevant age group/s:
Research discipline:

Whitebread, D. et al. (2017) PLaNS Handbook (Document)

Abstract:

This is a free teacher's handbook based on the work of Dr David Whitebread, Dr Marisol Basilio, and their team. You can view the handbook via the link provided below. To find out more about the PLaNS project, click here: https://goo.gl/Wk9aef

Linked with PEDAL, the overall aim of the PLaNS project was to investigate the influence that a playful learning approach could have on 5-10 year olds’ narrative and writing skills.

Being able to construct a clear narrative, in fictional form as a story, or in a non-fictional form as a descriptive account or a set of instructions, is a crucial skill, within educational contexts and beyond. There is a major concern that many children do not master these skills as well as they might, having implications for their oral and written narrative skills, and on aspects of their text comprehension (for example, the ability to identify the main points in a story or a factual text).

Using LEGO sets, primary school teachers had free rein to develop playful activities to inspire children’s narratives and writing during a full academic year. Children worked together in groups to create stories and develop their writing in several ways - through comic strips, movies, 3D storyboards and more besides.

The PLaNS research team evaluated children at the beginning and end of the school year to measure the impact of this teaching approach on a range of skills: writing, oral narrative skills, vocabulary, self-regulation and creativity. Children and teachers were also observed in the classroom throughout the academic year, and interviewed by the research team in order to understand learning experiences from the participant's perspective.

Date:
January 2017
Publisher or Journal:
Volume:
Page/s:
Synonyms:
  • Academic outcomes
  • Guided-play
  • Literacy
  • Playful learning
  • Pretend play
  • Construction play
Relevant age group/s:

Zyga, O. et al. (2015) Assessment of Pretend Play in Prader-Willi Syndrome: A Direct Comparison to Autism Spectrum Disorder (Journal Article)

Abstract:

Children with Prader-Willi syndrome (PWS) are at risk for autism spectrum disorder (ASD), including pervasive social deficits. While play impairments in ASD are well documented, play abilities in PWS have not been evaluated. Fourteen children with PWS and ten children with ASD were administered the Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule (ADOS) (Lord et al. in Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule manual. Western Psychological Services, Los Angeles, 2006) as part of a larger project. A modified Affect in Play Scale (APS; Russ in Play in child development and psychotherapy: toward empirically supported practice. Lawrence Erlbaum Associates Publishers, Mahwah, 2004; Pretend play in childhood: foundation of adult creativity. APA Books, Washington, 2014) was used to score ADOS play activities. Results indicate both groups scored below normative data on measures of imagination, organization, and affective expression during individual play. In addition, the inclusion of a play partner in both groups increased all scaled scores on the APS. These findings suggest children with PWS show impaired pretend play abilities similar to ASD. Further research is warranted and should focus on constructing and validating programs aimed at improving symbolic and functional play abilities within these populations.

Date:
January 2015
Volume:
45
Page/s:
975-987
Synonyms:
  • Atypical development
  • Developmental outcomes
  • Play assessment
  • Pretend play
  • Social cognition
  • Social play
  • Social-emotional
  • Solitary play
  • Symbolic play
Relevant age group/s:
Research discipline: