Two of my children were driving the other day. Max was steering the minivan as Ben maneuvered a pirate ship in our foyer. They’re thirteen years apart and yet, pretend play is important for both of them.

Max has been driveway driving for years now. Sometimes, I sit in the passenger seat and he takes me to pretend places. His destination of choice is always Orlando, where he plans to move to. (I don’t consider his constant discussions about moving there imaginative, because he has pretty much convinced himself that he is going to live there.) Another favorite play activity: listening to fire truck videos on YouTube and making a siren sound along with them. Several years ago, one of Max’s occupational therapists used to engage him during sessions by getting him to put out fires.

Ben likes to lie on floor and roll around his pirate ship, his toy trucks and cars, water bottles, whatever. He does this at home, and at restaurants we’re at, too. “Here comes the tunnel!” he’ll proclaim. “Beep! Beep! I’m coming!”

Experts say imaginative play is a critical part of child development. It enhances thinking skills and creativity. It can increase language usage. When children use toys for scenarios involving other people, it can help boost communication, problem solving and empathy. Pretend play also builds confidence because children discover they can be who they want to be and do what they want to do just by pretending.

At fifteen years old, Max is still developing, and pretend play is as good for him as it is for his little brother. I realize that most boys his age are gearing up to get a driver learner’s permit. I’m not sure if driving is in the cards for Max. But when he’s behind the wheel in our driveway, he is in control and loving life.



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