What Age Does Pretend Play Stop? (Importance and Impact on Child Development)

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Pretend play also known as imaginative play or make-believe play is an essential part of a child’s development. It helps them learn about the world around them, develop their physical and intellectual skills, and work out their emotions. 

When children play, they use their imaginations to create new worlds and experiences. This helps them to understand different perspectives and develop empathy for others. Play is also an excellent way for children to relieve stress and have fun.

As early as 5, a child begins to display a fondness for pretend games

But at what age does pretend play stop? Pretend play is an important part of childhood development. It helps children learn about the world around them, develop their imaginations, and work through their emotions. Most children stop playing pretend around 10 or 12, but some children may continue to play pretend for longer. Here, we discuss what pretend play is, the five stages of creative play, and its benefits for your child’s development.

What Age Does Pretend Play Stop

What Is Pretend Play?

Pretend play, as mentioned above, is an activity where children use their imagination to create fictional scenarios, assume different roles, and engage in pretend interactions. It involves pretending to be someone else, exploring imaginary worlds, and bringing their creative ideas to life through play. Fantasy play helps children develop their theory of mind.

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    Theory of mind is the ability to understand that other people have different thoughts, feelings, and beliefs than you do. It is a complex skill that develops over time.

    When children pretend to be someone else, they have to think about what that person would think, feel, and believe. This helps them to understand that other people have different perspectives than their own and in the process indulge in learning through Montessori pretend play.

    At the age of 5, children begin to show signs of dramatic playing. They start to understand that other people can see things that they cannot see and that they can have different beliefs about the world.

    Pretend play has different terms as well including:

    • Make-believe
    • Dramatic play
    • Fantasy play
    • Imaginative play
    • Symbolic Play

    Fantasy play can be done alone or with friends. It can be simple or complex. The most important thing is that, it is fun and that it allows children to use their imaginations.

    How Does Pretend Play Contribute to a Child’s Development

    Pretend play significantly contributes to a child’s development across various ways. It enhances cognitive skills by promoting problem-solving, abstract thinking, and planning. Socially, it encourages cooperation, negotiation, and empathy as children navigate different roles and scenarios.

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    They develop better emotional intelligence as they express and manage feelings within their imaginative play. Language skills are honed through dialogue and storytelling, fostering vocabulary and communication abilities. Children also refine their motor skills through physical actions involved in enacting different roles. Overall, pretend play nurtures creativity, self-regulation, and holistic growth in children.

    Pretend Play Age Range

    Pretend play is a crucial component of childhood development, regardless of a child’s age. From the early toddler years to older children, engaging in imaginative and pretend play offers numerous benefits for their growth and learning.

    During the pretend play age, young toddlers begin to develop their cognitive, social, and emotional skills as they explore their surroundings and experiment with different roles. As children progress through different stages, Montessori pretend play continues to be instrumental in enhancing problem-solving abilities, communication skills, and creativity.

    Furthermore, it fosters empathy, cooperation, and an understanding of social roles. Whether it’s playing house, creating imaginary scenarios, or immersing themselves in dramatic play, the pretend play age serves as a pivotal time for nurturing children’s overall development and providing them with endless opportunities for learning and growth.

    Pretend Play Milestones: Unleashing the Power of Imagination

    Pretend play is a magical world where children can let their imaginations soar and bring their dreams to life. Let’s explore the exciting milestones of pretend play that mark important stages in a child’s imaginative development.

    Starting Pretend Play (Age 2-3)

    Around the ages of 2 to 3, children embark on their pretend play journey. They begin to understand the concept of pretending and use their imagination to become different characters or engage in make-believe scenarios. It’s a thrilling milestone where their imagination takes its first steps.

    Imaginative Role-Playing (Age 4-5)

    Between the ages of 4 to 5, pretend play becomes more complex and exciting. Children take on multiple roles, create elaborate scenarios, and weave imaginative stories. They may even use props and costumes to enhance their pretend play adventures, bringing their imagination to life.

    Expanding Scenarios and Themes (Age 6-7)

    As children reach the ages of 6 to 7, their pretend play grows even more intricate. They explore a wider range of scenarios and themes, from occupations to fantasy realms. With a deeper understanding of storytelling elements, they bring their creative ideas to play and create imaginative worlds of their own.

    Symbolic Thinking and Problem-Solving (Age 8-9)

    Around 8 to 9 years old, pretend play takes on new dimensions. Children develop symbolic thinking, using objects or actions to represent something else. They engage in intricate narratives, solve pretend problems, and collaborate with friends. Pretend play becomes a source of joy, creativity, and cognitive growth.

    Evolving Forms of Play (Age 10+)

    As children grow older, their play may evolve beyond traditional pretend play. They may explore more structured games, engage in imaginative storytelling, or pursue creative activities like writing, drawing, or acting. While the forms of play change, the skills and experiences gained through pretend play continue to shape their growth and development.

    Pretend play milestones mark the remarkable stages in a child’s imaginative journey. From the early beginnings to complex role-playing, expanding scenarios, symbolic thinking, and beyond, each milestone brings new opportunities for creativity, problem-solving, and social interaction. So, let your imagination take flight and enjoy the wonders of pretend play!

    Factors Influencing the Duration of Pretend Play

    Many things can affect how long children engage in pretend play. One factor is individual differences, which means that each child may have their own unique preferences and interests. Social influences, like playing with friends or siblings, can also impact pretend play.

    Cultural norms, or the customs and traditions of a particular group or society, may shape how much pretend play children engage in. Environmental factors, such as the availability of toys or the amount of free time, can also play a role. All of these factors together can either extend or shorten the duration of pretend play in children.

    When do Toddlers Start Imaginative Play

    Toddlers typically start engaging in imaginative play around the age of 18 to 24 months. At this stage, they begin to demonstrate an emerging sense of imagination and creativity. Initially, their play may involve simple actions like feeding a doll or pretending to talk on a toy phone. As they grow older, their imaginative play becomes more complex and sophisticated.

    They may start assigning roles to different objects or engage in symbolic play, where they use one object to represent another (e.g., using a block as a car). Toddlers’ imaginative play is often inspired by their observations of real-life situations, interactions with others, and their own experiences. It is an exciting milestone that signifies their growing cognitive and social development. Encouraging and participating in their imaginative play can foster their creativity, language skills, and emotional expression.

    The Role of Pretend Play in Older Children and Adolescents

    As children grow older, pretend play evolves and takes on different forms. Older children and adolescents continue to engage in imaginative play, albeit in more sophisticated ways. They may shift from simple make-believe scenarios to more complex forms of creative expression, such as storytelling, writing stories or scripts, and participating in role-playing games.

    Pretend play remains valuable in this age group as it allows them to explore their creativity, problem-solving skills, and social interactions. It also nurtures their cognitive development, emotional expression, and the ability to think abstractly. Children and toddlers can improve their creative skills through pretend play.

    Transitioning from Pretend Play to Other Forms of Creative Expression

    As children grow older, they start to explore different ways to express their creativity. They transition from Montessori pretend play to other creative activities like art, drama, writing, or music. These activities offer new opportunities for children to use their imagination and express themselves.

    They can paint or draw pictures, act in school plays, write stories or poems, or play musical instruments. Engaging in these activities not only allows children to continue being creative, but it also supports their thinking skills and emotional development. Trying out different forms of creative expression can be a fun and exciting journey.

    Supporting Pretend Play in Older Children

    Parents, educators, and caregivers can help older children continue their pretend play journey by providing support and encouragement. Creating a nurturing environment is important. This means having a space where children can use their imagination freely, with access to open-ended materials like blocks, dolls, or costumes.

    It’s also great to allow for collaborative play experiences, where children can play together and share ideas. Adults can show interest in their play and join in occasionally. Remember, pretend play is still important, even as children get older, so let’s continue to foster their imaginations!

    6 Stages of Imaginative Play (Stages of Pretend Play)

    Have you ever wondered how your pretend play changes and grows as you get older? The stages of imaginative play, also known as stages of pretend play, illustrate the evolving nature of children’s creativity.

    From infancy to early school age, these stages progress: solitary pretend play where babies mimic simple actions, parallel pretend play as toddlers engage alongside others, associative pretend play as preschoolers collaborate on themes, and finally, cooperative pretend play where early school-age children create intricate shared scenarios, fostering creativity and social skills through play.

    There are six stages of imaginative play that show us how child’s play evolves and becomes more exciting as they grow. Let’s have a look at these 6 stages of imaginative play further below.

    Unoccupied Play (Birth-3 Months)

    Unoccupied play is the first play stage in children, and it occurs from birth to about 3 months of age. During this stage, babies begin to play but are not yet able to focus on a single object or activity for very long, and they often seem to be simply observing their surroundings. However, they are using this time to learn about the world around them through their senses.

    Solitary Play (Birth-2 Years)

    At 18 to 24 months, children progress and play becomes constituted with imitating real-life activities. For example, they might pretend to stir the soup in a pot or talk on the phone. They might also create and coordinate several roles in which they partake.  During this stage, the memory skills and active imagination of the child are stirred.

    Spectator/Onlooker Behavior (2 Years)

    This stage is in the development of play in children which is characterized by the child watching other children play, but not participating in themselves. There are several reasons why a child might engage in spectator/onlooker behavior. Some children may be shy and hesitant to join in with other children. Others may be simply observing the play to learn how to play themselves.

    Parallel Play (2+ Years)

    As children get older, about 24 months and up, they start to use their imaginations more. They might pretend to be different characters or act out stories.

    Associate Play (3-4 Years)

    Children become more creative an elaborate in the way they explore from 3- years of age. Children also start to create elaborate scenarios with multiple characters and settings. For example, they might pretend to be superheroes fighting a battle, or they might build a pirate ship and sail the seas. 

    They might also start to engage in several roles in an elaborate scenario to attempt to create representational scenes.  Toddlers start to access a lot of simple actions and games become more complex.

    Cooperative Play (4+ Years)

    At 3 to 5 years, children in this age group typically play more complex pretend play. Children will move and create elaborate scenarios with multiple characters and settings. They might still play with dolls, dress up, and might use a shoe to represent other objects. During this time, the children will engage in a lot of high-level symbolic thinking and partake in complex and dramatic make-believe scenarios. 

    What Are The Benefits of Symbolic Play In Early Childhood?

    Says Vanessa Lapointe, a registered psychologist, that children typically use imaginative play to make sense of difficult emotions that they cannot express verbally. 

    This can be a helpful way for children to work through their feelings and develop coping mechanisms.

    Lapointe notes that this type of play can be especially helpful for “sensitive or intense” children, who may have difficulty expressing their emotions in other ways. 

    She says that by playing out their emotions, children can learn to manage them healthily while nurturing their cognitive development as well.

    Below are some of the specific ways in which make-believe play can benefit your child:

    Aids in Developing Cognition

    Children’s make-believe play requires extensive problem-solving, such as locating suitable resources to construct a spaceship or rotating roles among themselves. 

    As they mature and include their peers or family members in their imaginative games, the physical play demands that children formulate concepts, take into account differing viewpoints, negotiate, and enact their high-level ideas.

    All of these activities contribute significantly to the kid’s ability to develop their cognitive abilities.

    Helps Foster Imagination

    A notable aspect of pretend play revolves around the use of imagination, as the scenarios frequently differ from reality.  Most often than not, kids use imaginative scenarios to process issues as well.

    Make-believe scenarios are constructed by utilizing everyday items found in and around the house, such as empty boxes, old clothing, towels, and blankets. 

    Accomplishing this demands a great deal of creativity and imaginative thinking. They also invent complex and dramatic make-believe which can also help the kids make sense of the environment.

    Develops Emotional and Social Skills

    Imaginary play serves as a valuable means to further enhance the ability of a child to use imaginative scenarios to process and manage a wide range of emotions, nurture empathy, make sense of their world, and foster healthy identities.

    For instance, when children engage in imaginative role-playing, they are required to empathize and view situations from various perspectives. 

    Parents with young children are familiar with the challenges children face in comprehending others’ points of view. 

    However, through assuming different roles, children gradually acquire the skills to comprehend others’ emotions and cultivate empathy.

    Enhances Language Development

    Pretend play offers children an opportunity to put into practice the words and phrases they have encountered. 

    Additionally, they begin to grasp the significance of language, as they realize that words enable them to effectively express their thoughts and emotions.

    The Role of Technology in Pretend Play

    Technology has become a big part of our lives, and it can also influence pretend play. Some children use technology, like tablets or video games, to enhance their pretend play experiences. It can provide new ways to imagine and create. However, it’s important to find a balance.

    Too much screen time may limit opportunities for children to use their imagination and engage in traditional pretend play. It’s good to encourage a mix of both screen-based play and offline imaginative play. Finding the right balance allows children to enjoy the benefits of technology while still fostering their creativity and imagination in other ways.

    When Does Pretend Play Start?

    When does pretend play starts depends on various factors, but pretend play, also known as imaginative play or make-believe play, starts around 18 to 24 months of age. This is an exciting stage in a child’s development when they begin to demonstrate an emerging sense of imagination and creativity.

    At this age, children start to engage in pretend play activities that involve using their imagination to create fictional scenarios and take on different roles. They may begin by imitating simple actions they have observed in real life, like feeding a doll or pretending to talk on a toy phone. As their imagination develops further, they expand their pretend play to involve more complex and elaborate scenarios.

    Signs of Pretend Play

    There are several signs that show when children are engaging in pretend play and using their imagination. Here are some common signs to look out for:

    Role-Playing: Children start to take on different roles and pretend to be someone else, such as a doctor, teacher, or superhero.

    Imaginary Scenarios: They create imaginary situations and act them out, like having a tea party with stuffed animals or going on a pretend adventure.

    Object Substitution: Children use one object to represent another, like using a block as a phone or a blanket as a cape.

    Storytelling: They make up stories and narratives while playing, adding details and plotlines to their imaginative scenarios.

    Talking and Interacting: Children engage in conversations and interactions with themselves, dolls, or other playmates, pretending that they are part of the make-believe world.

    Emotional Expression: Children display emotions related to their pretend play, such as excitement, laughter, or acting out different feelings within the context of their play.

    These signs indicate that children are using their imagination, creating fictional worlds, and immersing themselves in pretend play. It’s an exciting stage where they can explore and learn through their imaginative adventures.

    As a parent or a caregiver, you can support your child by providing toys, costumes, and props that spark the child’s imagination. You can also join in the play, ask questions that encourage creativity, and praise your child’s imaginative ideas.


    Since playing is the only constant thing in a child, it is important to take note of the significance and importance of playtime.

    Symbolic play is pivotal in directing your child’s cognition, physical, emotional, and intellectual development.

    It provides them with a safe and supportive environment to practice problem-solving, perspective-taking, negotiation, and creativity. 

    All of these skills are essential for success in school and life.


    What is the best imaginative play age?

    The best imaginative play age is generally around 2 to 7 years old. During this period, children’s creativity and cognitive abilities flourish, allowing them to engage in elaborate pretend scenarios, develop problem-solving skills, and enhance their social interactions. This stage is characterized by a rich imagination and a willingness to explore various roles and situations through play.

    Is it normal for 9-year-olds to still play pretend?

    Make-believe play is a beneficial aspect of a child’s social, emotional, and cognitive growth, and it should not be a source of concern for parents or educators. Pretend play typically commences between 11 to 18 months of age in typically developing children and gradually transforms into different forms of play between ages 10 to age 12.

    Why is pretend play not in Montessori?

    Montessori educators believe that imaginary play is an important part of childhood. However, they also believe that it is important for children to connect with reality. By providing children with real materials, encouraging them to observe real-world activities, and talking to them about their real-world experiences, Montessori educators help children to develop their imaginations while also learning about the world around them. Children are allowed and even encouraged to use their imaginations during work activities and free time, as long as they are also learning about the real world. 

    How can you help your child discover pretend play?

    Make-believe is a great way for children to develop their imagination, creativity, and social skills. You can help your child discover it by providing a variety of props and materials,

    asking open-ended questions, encouraging make-believe, and making it fun!

    When Do Toddlers Start Imaginative Play (imaginative play age)?

    Imaginative play is a vital aspect of a child’s development, fostering creativity, problem-solving skills, and social interactions. Many parents wonder, “When do toddlers start imaginative play?” The perfect imaginative play age is around the 18 months to 2 years. Rhis is when toddlers begin to engage in pretend play, using their imagination to create fictional scenarios and take on different roles.

    This magical milestone is marked by tea parties with stuffed animals, building forts with blankets, and pretending to be superheroes or princesses. Through imaginative play, toddlers explore and make sense of the world around them, building cognitive and emotional abilities that will shape their future. Encouraging and joining in their imaginative adventures can ignite their creativity and provide endless opportunities for learning and growth.

    What age is a toddler?

    A toddler is typically considered to be a child between the ages of 1 and 3 years old. This stage is characterized by rapid physical, cognitive, and emotional development as children begin to explore and interact with the world around them.