Pretend play is the genesis of creativity and
imagination. Self-directed pretend play
begins around age two when a toddler uses
one object to represent another – a block of
wood becomes a car as the toddler zooms around the
room. This is the beginning of symbolic thinking, an
essential component of higher-level thinking skills.
Young children use what they know and understand
of the world around them as a resource for pretend
play. They will often place themselves in the role of
mother, father, or baby. Even in the early stages,
children use their burgeoning imagination to
rework what they have experienced into new sets of
actions. Through pretend play, children create new
roles and situations. As the ability to play develops,
these new situations become increasingly complex
and beyond the realm of their own experience. For
example, children give their favourite characters
from a storybook or TV series different roles and new
Until approximately age four, pretend play tends
to be personal, that is, it revolves around what the
individual child brings to the play. They may co-
operate in sharing space and even toys, but the actions
are personal rather than collaborative. Collaborative
play happens when children join together around a
common theme with interrelated actions and roles.
Young children want others to join them at play,
but each player is working through his own story.
It is not until the primary grades that children have
sufficient language and social skills to truly engage in
collaborative play.
Sociodramatic play is a unique form of collaborative
play. It is both imaginative and highly social. An
episode of sociodramatic play is a sequence of make-
believe in which two or more players collaborate
to construct roles and actions around a common
theme. The episode begins when a player signals a
transformation, either through an explicit statement
or an implicit action. The episode continues so long
as two players remain with the theme. It ends when
all the players abandon the theme or time runs out.
An episode of sociodramatic play involves four basic
• theme: what the episode is about;
• action plan: a series of actions or rituals
appropriate to the theme;
• roles: theme-appropriate characters; and
• language: both language about the episode and
in-role language.
Sociodramatic play is so much a part of childhood
that parents and teachers often remain unaware of
the complexity and depth of the learning that takes
place. It is not a play as adults understand it but a
sequence of make-believe that is spontaneous and
controlled by the children themselves. It has implicit
rules that are understood by the players although
they are not able to articulate them. In the older
elementary-age children, sociodramatic play evolves
into improvisation, but is quite different to preparation
for putting on a play. Improvisation evolves from each
child’s own background knowledge and experience.
Within the classroom, an area has been created for
a ‘radio station’ with microphones and headphones.
This has become a favourite choice as children
improvise various scenarios: being the talk show host
or the guest, reading the news, providing musical
interludes. The action changes daily depending on
children’s focus and interest.