Researchers Li, Hestenes, and Wang (2016) studied make believe play (otherwise known as pretend play) in outdoor childcare settings as most studies investigated make believe play in indoor childcare settings. The study found that outdoor settings provided more opportunities for children to use their imagination in play.
Make believe play improves children's cognitive and social development, language development, creativity, impulse control, coping strategies, and emotion development. There was also positive relationship between make believe play and social competence but not with following rules.
There was no gender difference in outside make believe play, however other studies investigating indoors make believe play have found that boys tend to engage in concrete pretend play (using objects) while girls used abstract pretend play (transforming ideas). Outdoor play may promote gender equality because it offers more opportunities for different types of play in which girls and boys can effortlessly discover their roles.
This research has important implications in helping those who care for young children to understand the importance of make believe play, especially outdoors. This is an important message in an era where children area spending more hours playing online games than in outdoor activities.
Source: Li, J., Hestenes, L. L., & Wang, Y. C. (2016). Links between preschool children's social skills and observed pretend play in outdoor childcare environments. Journal of Early Childhood Education, 44, 61-68.
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