Play is essential to a child’s development because it contributes to their cognitive, physical, social and emotional wellbeing. Play also offers an opportunity for parents to engage fully with their children.
The dichotomy between play and learning is often misrepresented with terms such as “Don’t play with your pen,” (which indicates that play is something negative or unnecessary) or “If you finish this task, you can go and play,” which implies that play should be had only after the important stuff is done.
Play is in fact one of the best sources of learning, especially imaginative play…
Why is imaginative play so beneficial?
Young children learn by imagining and doing. Through pretend play children can:
- Learn about themselves and the world. Dramatic play experiences teach children about their likes and dislikes, their interests and their abilities. They make sense of what they’ve observed, allowing them to express new ideas and feelings.
- Enhance knowledge and skills. Think of your child playing in their pretend grocery store. They sort by attributes as they group similar wooden fruit into sections. They use maths concepts when determining prices. They practice writing skills by making signs. They experiment with shapes and weights through organisation of the store. They work collaboratively as they assign roles within the store - “Mum, you be the customer and you’re here to buy some bread.”
- Develop new competencies and grow confident. Undirected play allows children to learn how to work in groups, to share, to negotiate, to resolve conflicts, and to learn self-advocacy skills. When play is child-driven, children practice decision-making skills, move at their own pace, discover their own areas of interest, and ultimately engage fully.
- Cultivate social and emotional intelligence. There is no substitute for creative and imaginative play when it comes to teaching social cues, recognising and regulating emotions, negotiating and taking turns and engaging in long-term activity that’s mutually beneficial.
- Work through confusion and fears. Through role play, children become more comfortable and prepared for life events in a safe way. This could be coping with illness in the family, the absence of a parent, a house fire or a doctor’s check up. Next time your child holds a mock stethoscope or pretends to give you ‘shots’, this could be your child’s way of exploring an experience that is common and sometimes confusing or scary.
- Develop complex social and higher order thinking skills. Children learn to express thoughts and ideas and negotiate and consider other people’s perspectives and wishes to balance their own ideas with others. Through pretend play your child learns to transfer knowledge from one situation to another, delay gratification, develop a plan and act on it, assign tasks and roles, and synthesise different information and ideas.
- Practice language skills. Children can expand their vocabulary and experiment freely with words in their own space and time, without the risk of embarrassment if they use the words incorrectly. Through imaginative play with others, children begin to understand that words give them the power to re-enact a story and to organise play. Children also learn to have conversations, which they enact by talking to their dolls and action figures and imagining responses.
The benefits of play kitchens
Play kitchens are a particularly valuable resource for pretend play. A fun and exciting activity that stretches the imagination and enriches creativity, children can come up with their own recipes, make up menus, explore different ingredients and experiment with pretend utensils and appliances.
In particular, play kitchens:
- Give children the opportunity to imitate common situations they are familiar with. Whether they are playing the role of head chef, waiter, kitchen porter or parent at home, play kitchens allow children to imagine themselves in new roles.
- Widen vocabulary as children begin to learn the names of new objects and foods. They also become more familiar with verbs such as “cook” and “stir” and opposites such as “hot” and “cold”.
- Promote healthy food choices. A play kitchen that’s stocked with pretend ingredients like fruit, vegetables, eggs and meat will encourage children to make healthier food choices. They imagine the food they have cooked in appetising scenarios, which ultimately leads them to trying more foods in real life.
- Create discussions between children when teamwork is at play. Children must decide who plays what role, what they should cook and how they are going to cook it. This encourages cooperation, sharing, taking turns and listening to other ideas and opinions.
- Encourages organisation and planning. Children quickly discover that a pretend play kitchen is more enjoyable if it’s organised. Children may store their pretend ingredients away in the cupboards and neatly organise afternoon tea for their guests - all while planning what they are going to cook next and who will get what meal.
- Teach basic cooking and cleaning concepts. This not only enriches their understanding of the world, it develops their life skills. Whether they are pretending to set the table, bake a cake or wash the dishes, kitchen role play tends to heighten their empathy for others because it gives them an insight into what it would be like to really do these things.
- Force problem solving. If problems arise, such as a fork going missing, children must come up with a solution. This could be substituting the item or it could be going out of their way to find it. Either way they are being forced to problem solve.
4 Ways to play in a play kitchen
There are so many ways to play with a pretend play kitchen that children will never grow bored. To make the most of the learning opportunities associated with a pretend play kitchen, you can help guide your child through their play by encouraging:
- Cooking with recipes. Toddlers might not be able to read but that doesn’t mean they can’t follow directions. Use pictures as a guide and eventually they will start recognising the words included with the picture. Try creating recipe cards using tools like Canva.
- Restaurant play. Sit at a table and have your child come and take your order. You might want to take this a step further and have your child come up with a menu from which you can choose from.
- Grocery shopping / putting away. Separate the food from the kitchen play area and have your child take a basket or shopping trolley to the store for ingredients. Let them choose what foods they’d like to buy and then put them away once back in their kitchen.
- Playing house. Toddlers love to play house, feeding and caring for babies. By placing a pretend baby in a high chair next to the kitchen , your child can cook for them, feed them and then care for them.
Our best advice is to simply provide your child with everything they need to be creative on their own. This might include wooden fruits and vegetables, play pots and pans, tea pots and tea cups, picnic baskets, a shopping trolley, birthday cake, oven gloves, a cash register, plates, baking goods, iconic Aussie ice creams - even a coffee machine!
At HipKids, we’ve got it all, including an extensive range of beautifully crafted toy kitchen sets. Shop the range today.