I Don’t Care About The Data, Pretend Play Is Still Important

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pretend playNew research is out that casts some doubt about the benefits of pretend play on cognitive development in young children. It’s been generally accepted, and backed by previous studies, that kids need time to use their imagination. But this new team has looked back over 150 studies on the subject and says that the links between pretend play and creativity, intelligence, and problem solving are pretty much non-existent.

In a report published in Psychological Bulletin, Angeline Lillard and her team found most of the evidence in the previous studies showed little or no correlation between playing make believe and children’s mental development. And yet, in the face of such surprising news, I just don’t care. I don’t trust the research on this one.

I feel blasphemous typing that I don’t care about the data. I used to work in data analysis. My dad is an engineer and he taught me to have a healthy respect for research and factual knowledge. Really, it’s hard to look at a study and just shrug my shoulders to say, “Too bad. I’m not convinced.” I get frustrated with other people for doing this on subjects like vaccines and autism.

However, there’s something about pretend play that I just feel attached to. The study concedes that imaginative play can help language, storytelling, social development and self-regulation. I think all of those things are still important. And more than that, I feel like I’ve seen so many important lessons come out of pretend play.

I’ve seen my daughter learn to empathize with other people, because she imagined herself in their shoes. I’ve seen her learn scientific curiosity when she tries to bring her imagination to life. Pretend play has gotten her excited about learning, because it helps us choose areas of her interest and turn them into lessons. I don’t know how quantifiable these situations are, but I do know that I think they’re important in my daughter’s life.

Maybe my issue isn’t that I don’t believe the science. I’m sure these researchers are intelligent and doing their best. Maybe I just don’t care. Because every child learns differently, and while it may not work for all of them, I’m pretty positive that pretend play works for us. It keeps my daughter active when she’s chasing bad guys all over our house, dressed up like Batgirl and wielding bat boomerangs. (Batterangs.) Her imagination helps us as we start to tackle chapter books, instead of story books. We can picture the scenes in our heads, and get used to not seeing it draw out for us on the page.

I feel like pretend play does a lot for my daughter. So whether the research backs me up or not, I’m not prepared to let it go. I’ll continue to consider it a teaching strategy and an important part of my daughter’s day.

Now you’ll have to excuse me. I have to go be the triceratops to my daughter’s T-Rex.

(Photo: Serhiy Kobyako/Shutterstock)