How often do you find your child lost in their only little world of imaginative play? In our house, it’s a daily occurrence – and since school has started again this Fall, I often find the girls playing school. Pretend play is not only a critical part of early child development, it can also help you learn more about your child and their current school experiences.

4 Things You and Your Child Can Learn Playing School

Have you ever been struggling with a project at work, and you come home and think through it while you go through the motions of your day, maybe even in your dreams? Our kids are no different! While you may ask them how school was and get little more than a word or two response, left to their own imaginative play devices, they may reveal far more about their day.

So the next time they want to play school, you should not only encourage it, but listen up.

You Learn 95% of What We Teach to Others   

Ever heard the saying “We Learn . . . 10% of what we read,  20% of what we hear, 30% of what we see, 50% of what we see and hear, 70% of what we discuss, 80% of what we experience, and 95% of what we teach others.”

It originated from William Glasser, a famous American psychiatrist, who pioneered work in choice therapy and its applications in education. What it means for playing school? If your child can come home and pretend to teach what they’ve learned to their stuffed animals and dolls, they are more likely to master the material.

Last week, my daughter’s preschool class was beginning a year-long alphabet study by reading Chicka Chicka Boom Boom by Bill Martin, Jr. John Archambault. She was playing school, and asked me to write the repetitive refrain from the story on her pretend play school board – she’s a pre-reader, but after I wrote it, she used the pointer to point and read each word on the board!

So instead of doing more math worksheets, or practicing sight words on paper, ask them to teach addition to their favorite play things.

Gain Insight into What’s Happening at School 

Playing School Set

How many times have your picked up your child from school with a glum face? You ask, “How was school today?” and get met with a single word response if you’re lucky. You can push the question, but you know it often leads them to shut down even more.

If you back off, and let them play freely when you get home, you can often learn exactly what’s going on at school without even asking. Whether they are playing school, or re-enacting dialogue with princesses or stuffed animals, you might just hear what’s bothering them. Or if nothing is bothering them, you can often discover what they are learning about, who they are playing with, who’s being reprimanded by the teacher, and more.

I recommend letting them play as independently as possible, and revisiting what you learn with them when you have quiet 1-on-1 time. I find the best time to really get them talking is just before bed, after stories, when you are tucking your child in for the night.

Role Playing Develops Social and Emotional Skills 

When your child is playing school (or engaged in any form of pretend or imaginative play), you will often hear them replaying dialogue they observe in the world around them. Maybe they are re-enacting scenes from their favorite show, or replaying what happened at school that day.

Practicing the exchange of dialogue and re-enacting events are an amazing way to help your child develop social and emotional skills they will use for the rest of their life. Role playing during imaginative play is also a great tool for you as a parent to help guide your child when they are struggling with feelings, or even after they have behaved inappropriately.

If they have had an argument with a sibling or a friend at school, or even with you, when they are calmer, you can recreate the situation and offer up words, phrases and alternative actions they can use the next time the situation arises.

Discover Your Child’s PassionsLetter Matching

Want to find out what your child is really into? Leave them to their own imaginative devices. When they are playing school, see what lessons they choose to teach. Are they reading books to their stuffed animals? What books do they gravitate towards?

When they are playing school, do they re-teach science experiments or math lessons? The areas they choose to explore voluntarily are likely the subjects they enjoy most. Be sure to encourage those passions… but also take note of the areas they often avoid. This may be an indication of subject areas they struggle with, and may need your help to develop in those areas.


So the next time you happen upon your kids ‘playing school’, be sure to sit back, let them play and catch the conversation. Not only are they having fun, they are cementing their learning while offering you valuable insights into the part of their day you don’t often get to see firsthand.

Grab your own self-storing Pretend & Play School set here. For more great play ideas for kids, check out my Imaginative Play and Kids Activities boards on Pinterest.