Symbolic thinking skills & pretend play

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As your child gets closer to 2, thinking skills take a leap as they develop the ability to use imagination.  A child’s ability to use imagination in action is demonstrated as s/he goes from using objects for their ‘purpose’ to using them in new, creative ways which is what we call symbolic thinking.

Improving symbolic thinking skills can play a major role in enhancing the cognitive development of your toddler. While it is often easy to see if physical development is on track, when it comes to cognitive development, it may not be as easy for parent’s to see. Looking at the way your toddler uses symbolic thinking is one way to keep track.

An example of symbolic thinking skills in action would be seeing your toddler hold up a stuffed dog and saying ruff ruff, or babble into a toy phone.  S/he now understands that his stuffed dog is a symbol for a real dog. When s/he babbles into a toy phone, s/he understands that this is a “stand-in” for a real phone.  Symbolic thinking skills are critical for learning to read as well as for understanding math concepts.

What you can do to help build symbolic thinking skills?

  • Play pretend with your toddler.  When you see him cuddling his stuffed animal, you might say: “Bear loves it when you cuddle him. Do you think he’s hungry?”  Then bring out some pretend food. These kinds of activities will help build your child’s imagination.

  • Provide props.  Offer your child objects to play with that will help him use his imagination: dress-up clothes, animal figures, dolls, pretend food.

Let go of your own agenda and immerse yourself in the world of your child for best results!