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Definition

Symbolic play is a common term used for pretence involving 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, or creating and acting out fictional events or narratives. It can be combined with any other types of play.

See also: Semiotic play, Pretend play

Delvecchio, E. et al. (2016) Pretend Play in Italian Children: Validation of the Affect in Play Scale-Preschool Version (Journal Article)

Abstract:

Despite the emerging literature supporting the central role of pretend play for children's cognitive, affective and social development, there is a paucity of standardized and validated measures devoted to assess it, especially for preschoolers. In addition, most of the existing tools failed in their attempt to assess the interplay among the different developmental domains which are involved in playing activities. The Affect in Play Scale-Preschool version is a semi-structured measure to assess cognitive and affective pretend play processes in children aged 4-5 using a 5-min standardized play task. This study was aimed to evaluate the construct and external validity of the scale in a sample of Italian preschoolers. A multi-group factor analysis confirmed the adequacy of the two-factor model with cognitive and affective factor for both 4- and 5-year-old children. No differences were found between boys and girls whereas older children reported higher play abilities. Correlations between pretend play, divergent thinking, teacher's measures of temperament and prosocial behavior were carried out. Results supported the use of APS-P as a valid tool for assessing the interplay of cognitive and affective abilities in Italian children.

Date:
January 2016
Publisher or Journal:
Volume:
25
Page/s:
86-95
Synonyms:
  • Play assessment
  • Pretend play
  • Scale validation
  • Symbolic play
Relevant age group/s:
Research discipline:

Dender, A. et al. (2011) Development of the Indigenous Child-Initiated Pretend Play Assessment: Selection of play materials and administration (Journal Article)

Abstract:

BACKGROUND/AIM: There is a need for culturally appropriate assessments for Australian Indigenous children. This article reports the selection of culturally appropriate and gender-neutral play materials, and changes in administration identified to develop further the Indigenous Child-Initiated Pretend Play Assessment (I-ChIPPA).
METHOD: Twenty-three typically developing children aged four to six years from the Pilbara region in Western Australia participated in the study. Children were presented with four sets of play materials and frequency counts were recorded for each time the child used one of the play materials in a pretend play action. Twelve of the 23 children came to play in pairs.
RESULTS: Both boys and girls used the Pilbara toy set including the dark coloured dolls and Pilbara region animals, more frequently than the standardised play materials from the Child-Initiated Pretend Play Assessment (ChIPPA).
CONCLUSION: This study reports the first steps in the development of the I-ChIPPA. Future development will include the refinement of the administration and scoring with pairs of children, and then validity testing the assessment.

Date:
January 2011
Volume:
58
Page/s:
34-42
Synonyms:
  • Cultural context
  • Object play
  • Play assessment
  • Pretend play
  • Symbolic play
Relevant age group/s:

Feldman, R. (2007) On the origins of background emotions: From affect synchrony to symbolic expression (Journal Article)

Abstract:

Guided by Damasio's (2003) formulations on background emotions, this study examined the contour of infant affect during interactions with mother and father in relation to the emergence of symbolic expression. One hundred parents and infants were observed in face-to-face interactions and in play sessions at the toddler stage. Parent's and infants' affective states were coded in 1-s frames, and synchrony was assessed. Toddlers' play was microcoded for symbolic level and for reciprocity and intrusiveness. Infant affective contour with mother was rhythmic with 1 episode of positive arousal framed by social gaze. Affective contour with father contained several peaks of positive arousal of shorter duration. Symbolic complexity was comparable and preserved the parent-specific contours, with quicker latencies, higher frequencies, and shorter durations of complex symbolic episodes with father. Sequential relations emerged between parent's and child's symbolic expression, and maternal reciprocity and intrusiveness were sequentially linked to symbolic expansion or constriction, respectively. Parent-infant synchrony and the parent's support of toddler symbolic play predicted symbolic complexity. The need to include time in research on emotions and the dyadic origins of positive emotions are discussed.

Author/s:
Date:
January 2007
Publisher or Journal:
Volume:
7
Page/s:
601-611
Keyword/s:
Synonyms:
  • Symbolic play
Relevant age group/s:
Research discipline:

Foundation, . (2015) Building children's writing skills through learning through play (Video Recording)

Abstract:

The University of Cambridge and the LEGO Foundation has explored how learning through play helps children develop better writing skills.

You can read about the project in more detail here: https://goo.gl/Wk9aef

Author/s:
Date:
January 2015
Publisher or Journal:
Volume:
Page/s:
Synonyms:
  • Academic outcomes
  • Literacy
  • Object play
  • Pretend play
  • Semiotic play
  • Social play
  • Symbolic play
  • Construction play
Relevant age group/s:

Foundation, . (2015) What is Play? Play experts revealing their secrets... (Film)

Abstract:

Adults talk a lot about play, pretending they know what it is and what it's good for. We have asked a couple of real experts about what it is and what it feels…

What is Play? Play experts revealing their secrets... from LEGO Foundation on Vimeo.

Author/s:
Date:
January 2015
Publisher or Journal:
Volume:
Page/s:
Synonyms:
  • Object play
  • Physical play
  • Rough and tumble
  • Semiotic play
  • Symbolic play
  • Construction play
Relevant age group/s:
Research discipline:

Hobson, J. et al. (2015) Symbolizing as interpersonally grounded shifts in meaning: social play in children with and without autism (Journal Article)

Abstract:

The aim of this study was to examine the relation between symbolic play and communicative engagement among children with and without autism. Our predictions were firstly, that in moment-by-moment interactions during semi-structured interactive play with an adult, children with and without autism would tend to show shifts in meanings in symbolic play when engaged in coordinated states of joint engagement (events involving 'sharing-of-meaning'); secondly, that across atypically developing participants, sharing-of-meaning would (a) correlate with scores on a standardized test of pretend play, and (b) be inversely correlated with scores on the Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule; and finally, that participants with autism would contrast with matched developmentally delayed participants in manifesting lower levels of joint engagement, lower levels of symbolic play, and fewer shifts in symbolic meaning. Each of these predictions was borne out. The intimate developmental relation between social engagement and symbolic play appears to be important for explaining the developmental psychopathology of autism.

Date:
January 2015
Volume:
45
Page/s:
42-52
Synonyms:
  • Atypical development
  • Developmental outcomes
  • Language
  • Pretend play
  • Social cognition
  • Social play
  • Social-emotional
  • Symbolic play
Research discipline:

McCune, L. et al. (2015) Dynamic systems in semiotic development: The transition to reference (Journal Article)

Abstract:

Semiotic development involves the development of at least two different kinds of meaning: intersubjective and representational. By attending to these two kinds of meaning we are able to predict one of the major transitions in early childhood: the transition to reference. From a dynamic systems perspective we track essential developments which, when all have reached critical values, prompt the transition to referential word production and/or comprehension in the first half of the second year of life. We present the background of the four variables included in the model: (a) representational play, (b) vocalization ability, (c) gesture, and (d) developments in autonomic vocalization culminating in communicative grunts. We further demonstrate their efficacy in predicting the transition in a longitudinal sample of 10 children. Additional study is needed to confirm the role of these developments and to extend the approach to languages other than English and more advanced levels of semiotic development.

Author/s:
Date:
January 2015
Publisher or Journal:
Volume:
36
Page/s:
161-170
Synonyms:
  • Developmental outcomes
  • Exploratory play
  • Language
  • Longitudinal
  • Semiotic play
  • Symbolic play
Relevant age group/s:
Research discipline:

PEDAL, . (2018) PEDAL - Play at the Extremes: A panel discussion for parents, teachers and carers (Video Recording)

Abstract:

Join PEDAL in the conversation about the changing nature of childhood…are we really heading from 'free range' to 'hot house'? Is the Children's Commissioner for England correct when she calls for play on prescription and claims that children lead a "battery hen existence" (more info in the report 'Playing Out')?

Chaired by one of PEDAL’s lead researchers, Dr Jenny Gibson, the panel of speakers comprise of:

Kathryn Lester (University of Sussex – an academic who researches anxiety in children);
Nicola Butler (Chair of Play England’s Board of Trustees and Director of Hackney Play Association – managing Homerton Grove Adventure Playground);
Tim Gill (a researcher, writer and consultant on childhood).
Stephen Mitchell (Chair, Parkour UK & consultant)
Come and join us for this lively and topical debate.

Author/s:
Date:
January 2018
Publisher or Journal:
Volume:
Page/s:
Synonyms:
  • Creativity
  • Developmental outcomes
  • Language
  • Pretend play
  • Problem-solving
  • Symbolic play
Relevant age group/s:

PEDAL, . et al. (2017) PEDAL Seminar: Pretence and Creativity during Childhood and Beyond (Video Recording)

Abstract:

Dr Julie Kirkham is a senior Psychology lecturer and programme leader for the MScFamily and Child Psychology at the University of Chester. Her research interests include children’s symbolic development and the role of art, play and creativity within different educational curricula. Her
published work investigates the relationships between language, drawing and symbolic play and the influence of Montessori and Steiner education upon these abilities. Dr Kirkham is currently involved in research studying the relationship between childhood fantasy play, imaginary
friends and personality traits and abilities during adulthood, as well as the development of children’s aesthetic understanding and preferences
for different forms of art.

The seminar will consider several small scale exploratory studies which present interesting results and potential avenues for further research.

Author/s:
Date:
January 2017
Publisher or Journal:
Volume:
Page/s:
Synonyms:
  • Creativity
  • Developmental outcomes
  • Language
  • Pretend play
  • Problem-solving
  • Symbolic play
Relevant age group/s:

PEDAL, . et al. (2019) PEDAL Seminar: Toddlers Think for Themselves! (Video Recording)

Abstract:

Social learning has been a large focus of early developmental psychology for the past three decades. While it reveals how culture is transmitted to young children, questions about how young children come up with their own ideas and learn for themselves have been largely ignored.

This talk, with Dr Elena Hoicka from the University of Bristol, will present research showing that toddlers can be creative and come up with their own ideas. Elena will focus on toddlers' creation of their own novel jokes and pretending, and toddlers' divergent thinking with novel objects.

Author/s:
Date:
January 2019
Publisher or Journal:
Volume:
Page/s:
Synonyms:
  • Creativity
  • Developmental outcomes
  • Humour
  • Language
  • Pretend play
  • Problem-solving
  • Symbolic play
Relevant age group/s: