Seven Reasons Why Your Child Should Play Pretend 




As a kid, I owned a massage parlor: The Relaxation Station. The venture kept me quite busy as I was the manager, the receptionist, the masseuse and the customer. Although the operation was an elaborate product of my imagination, it was also a one stop shop for my sisters and me to practice our negotiation skills and ease our sore muscles. The Relaxation Station came to be primarily because I wanted my sisters to give me massages, and I figured they’d be more inclined to do my bidding if I had an actual massage parlor and paid them. 


With my parents' blessing, I set up my shop, also known as our living room floor, with mounds of perfumed blankets, sheets and pillows. The living room entryway served at the front door, and I stationed a stool, which became the front desk, with a clear coin jar, timer and a handwritten sign advertising all the “upgrades” that could be added to each service including rolling pins, lotion or whatever toy was closest, etc. Before entering the massage parlor, my sisters and I would negotiate details until we settled on a fair price per minute massage. 


As I operated my imaginary business, I thought I was a brilliant genius reaping all the benefits of unlimited back rubs. Although my ten year old self did not realize it at the time, the real value of my pretend massage parlor was the life lessons it taught me, specifically to exchange services for money and the concept of bartering.  


Okay, cool, you were an self-proclaimed entrepreneur at a young age, but what does that have to do with playing pretend? Glad you asked! 


Psychologists, like Dr. Scott Kaufman, emphasize the value of playing pretend as “a vital component to normal child development.” Research demonstrates that pretend play in young children (ages 2-7) yields numerous cognitive and creative benefits. Unsurprisingly, playing grocery store is one of the top recommended activities for teaching preschoolers about money. 


While Common Cents focuses primarily on financial literacy (outlined in the first three bullets below), playing pretend extends far beyond the realm of money management. Whether your child operates an imaginary massage studio, grocery store or doctor’s office pretend play helps to: 


1. Illustrate that items and services cost money


This is a great one that easily transitions from pretend play to real-life. The physical act of handing over money for an item makes a greater impression than verbal expression does. It’s also why Common Cents principles rely heavily on the physical exchange of money for goods or services in many of our activities.


2. Recognize early math skills like counting, sorting, etc. 


In addition to counting coins and bills, caretakers can advance pretend play by adding additional real life concepts or barriers to increase the complexity of the imaginary scenario. For example, as I ran Relaxation Station my mom could have charged me rent and for the supplies I snagged from the bathroom and kitchen. She also could have encouraged me to  set aside a percentage of my earnings for shop reinvestment or savings for emergency expenses.


3. Explain where money comes from


Although this doesn’t exist in all pretend play, in some scenarios where the parent plays along (see example 2), you will have the ability to introduce the concept of money earned in exchange for work. (I.e. the money your child might make if they start a lemonade stand).  Teaching your children the value of work, and that time equals money, will help them take that first step towards being financially literate.


4. Develop important social interaction and critical thinking skills


According to Bright Horizons Education Team, “through pretend play, children learn to do things like negotiate, consider others’ perspectives, transfer knowledge from one situation to another, delay gratification, balance their own ideas with others, develop a plan and act on it, explore symbolism, express and listen to thoughts and ideas, assign tasks and roles, and synthesize different information and ideas.”


6. Form social and emotional intelligence. 


Like financial literacy, solid social skills are best learned early. How we interact with others is directly linked to our lifelong success and happiness, and that foundation begins developing at an incredibly young age. Understanding social cues, recognizing and regulating emotions, negotiating and taking turns, are all vital components of social and emotional intelligence, which children encounter during pretend play and will continue to build on as they grow!


7. Combine knowledge with skills


Children’s development and application of knowledge doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Have you ever read instructions out loud, but failed to comprehend their meaning until you put those instructions into actual practice? It is the same for children as they develop cognitively and emotionally. Pretend play is a great way to ensure they practice and learn simultaneously. 


Think of Relaxation Station as my vehicle of pretend play. I used household items to provide “add-on” services, math concepts to determine the amount owed and verbal communication and social cues to determine the price for the service. Ultimately, I used my imagination to create a scenario, which mirrored a real life business and taught me a wide range of financial life skills in the process. 


Ca$hing in on Change, 


Common Cents Crew



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