Role play isn’t just for kids who want to become method actors. It helps all children build a range of social and practical skills, such as:
Teamwork and leadership seem to be among the most sought after characteristics by employers, alongside ‘being alive’, and ‘not being an invertebrate’. Going on imaginary quests, as pirates looking for treasure or knights fighting dragons, helps build teamwork and leadership skills. Unfortunately, you can’t put it on your CV.
Kids’ games often appear to be unstructured – consisting mostly of running around and shouting. It may not be very mentally stimulating, but this is good exercise, and will hopefully encourage your child to think exercise is fun. Depending on the type of running around and shouting they are doing, the activity may also improve their motor skills and ability to understand and follow rules.
Understanding how other people feel is one of the most important social skills there is. By re-enacting stories from TV or books, kids can learn to imagine how the characters feel in certain situations.
Perhaps you could buy Teletubbies costumes to help with this game, though as that show is not noted for its plot or character development, something like Harry Potter might be more stimulating.
Inventing situations may be even better than re-enacting them, as this stretches kids’ imaginations. Just pick up some fancy dress outfits, and see what wild story they come up with.
Practical household skills
Young children like imitating their parents. Giving them pretend responsibilities, like using a toy hoover or washing machine, helps boost their self-esteem, and builds useful domestic skills. And once they’re a bit older, it will be a smooth transition into doing useful chores.
Running a pretend shop is a great way for kids to learn practical maths skills. Teachers can use this in class to set up basic economic problems – every child is given a type of item to sell and a list of things to buy. In a more advanced version of the game, one child is put in charge of the central bank, and it all ends in tears, and hyperinflation.
For group role play, kids need to decide on rules, and give each other instructions, before and during the game. This is great for their communication skills, and improves their co-operation and patience.
Kids develop their sense of fairness by playing games with exaggerated ‘goody’ and ‘baddy’ roles, such as the Fellowship of the Ring vs the Orcs, Spiderman vs The Green Goblin, or Kennedy vs Khrushchev. This can also develop their sense of fairness in another way, as they realise that if they have been a goody for two games running, they have to go on the baddies’ side this time.
It’s hard to imagine what could be stressful about being a child, but apparently young kids can get stressed. Psychologist Marjorie Taylor says their ability to create imaginary friends and situations helps them escape the pressures of the real world. “This is a strength of children, their ability to pretend…They can fix the problem with their imagination.”
This article was written by Steve Ramsey on behalf of Escapade, a fancy dress retailer in Camden, London, which is well-known for its extensive range of fancy dress.