Pretend play is undeniably one of the most adorable parts of the preschool years. Watching our kids come up with scenarios and act them out, resolving conflicts and adapting storylines, is sometimes just too sweet for words. Whether your little one plays with puppets, dolls, stuffed animals, or action figures, pretend play is a quintessential part of childhood and a favorite at our house.

And, guess what? It’s not just cute! Pretend play is also incredibly beneficial to your child’s social and emotional development, language skills, and imagination.

Emotional Development

Often referred to as role play, pretend play provides kids an opportunity to work out the scenarios and “roles” they see in everyday life. They may play family and mimic Mom and Dad’s behavior. They may play baker, butcher, gas station attendant, Fed Ex delivery person, barista, or any one of dozens of roles they encounter each day, using playtime to reinforce in their minds what each person does and their place in the child’s life. Kids may also use pretend play to process real-life scenarios they’ve encountered, including difficult or upsetting episodes, like arguments.

Social Development

Pretend play is a great quite time, solo activity. It’s also perfect for playdates and together time fun with siblings and parents. And playing together is the perfect way to practice the social skills, like taking turns, compromising, and sharing, that your child will need for Kindergarten success.

Language Skills

By nature, pretend play is a verbal activity. Whether your child is playing alone or with friends or family, they’re going to be talking – a lot. Take a listen and you’ll hear your little one directing the play as well as acting out the parts. This verbal play helps strengthen language skills and builds vocabulary.

Imagination and Creativity

You’ll probably be surprised and impressed with some of the stories your child comes up with for their pretend play sessions. Preschoolers tend to merge fantasy with reality, resulting in some seriously exciting (and sometimes very silly) scenarios. The wilder, the better, as this is evidence of your child’s active imagination.

You can encourage pretend play at home with role play sets like Learning Resources Smart Market! This smart, 90-piece set includes everything your child needs to set up shop, including a shopping basket, shopping list, grocery boxes, cans with lids, price tags, coupons, bills and change. With so many ways to play, we couldn’t wait to get started!

First, we unpacked the box, which was filled to the brim.

girl with smart market set

Next, we set up our shop. We started with the boxed goods, noting that each one had a number. I challenged my daughter to put the boxes in numerical order – a key early math skill.

Then we placed the cans in our store. With a small, medium, and large can it was easy to practice sorting by size, a key early learning skill. Of course, we had to check to see if the lids come off – and they do! – which is great for honing those fine motor skills.

When our store was set up, we got down to business, placing an included price tag next to each item.

We got a bit sidetracked with the included play money, shuffling the bills and jumbling the coins and then sorting them by number and size. We talked about making a homemade cash register out of an old shoe box, which sounds like a great snow day smarts & crafts idea to me!

With the money clearly sorted out it was finally time to shop. But not for us! It seems a few of my daughter’s furrier friends were in need of a few staples, so out came the cutest bunch of customers you’ve ever seen.

The pictures next to each item on the laminated grocery list were the perfect reading clues, so we helped our customers read and find just what they were looking for before tallying up their totals. We’re not quite up to the adding or change-making just yet, but I do think this set will last us long enough to get there.

girl with grocery list

Learning Resources’ Smart Market is the perfect pretend play gift set for the little ones on your list this year! Not only will you help them build social, emotional, language, math, and other early learning skills, but you’ll be giving them the gift of creative play. And that’s what it’s all about.