Characteristics of pretend role play

Authored by: Irina Ryabkova , Elena Smirnova , Elena Sheina

The routledge international handbook of early childhood play

Print publication date:  June  2017
Online publication date:  June  2017

Print ISBN: 9781138833715
eBook ISBN: 9781315735290
Adobe ISBN:


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Vygotsky (2004) advanced the view that pretend symbolic play is the leading activity in early childhood (3–6 years). This kind of play is about the creation of imaginary space (either with the help of special tools or without them) – in three kinds of play: role play, symbolic play, or pretend play. Discrepancy between real and imagined situation is the main characteristic of pretend role play. Objects and subjects get new names and functions. The playing child proceeds ‘from thought rather than from the object’ in an imagined situation instead of a real one. However, a child (3–6 years) is still unable to act out a play scenario in their mind, without some external, practical actions. A young child must necessarily have a point of reference in another object so as to perform the same action as with an imagined object. For children between the ages of 3 and 6 this type of play is the leading activity, ensuring development of the child. This play may not be the predominant form of children’s activity. However, during this phase of childhood this kind of play determines the emergence of new mental formations. This type of play is the basis for developing imagination, image thinking, self-control, voluntary behaviour, self-awareness, etc. In pretend play children can do what they aren’t able to do in real life, that is, think out fascinating plots, overcome impulsive desires, follow rules, be patient and persistent. It is important that these abilities occur freely and voluntarily, without pressure and control from the adult. Pretend play is undoubtedly the leading activity from 3 to 6 years.

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