At around 8 months of age, as their symbolic thinking develops, children become familiar with objects, actions, and ideas through observation and exploration. An early example of symbolic play would be a child making noise with their baby toys by banging them or shaking them. As the child shows understanding of the object’s use, he may pick up a comb and touch his hair.
At around 18 months of age, children begin to engage in pretend play and use one object to represent another, like drinking from an empty cup or pretending to feed a doll. A toddler’s play is much more connected to imagination, with sticks becoming boats and brooms becoming horses. Their play is mostly solitary, assigning roles to inanimate objects like their dolls and teddy bears.5
Preschoolers, from ages 3 to 5 years, are more capable of imagining roles behind their pretend play. Their play becomes more social, and they enjoy make-believe play. They assign roles to themselves and others involving several sequenced steps often with a predetermined plan, like pretending to be at the doctor’s office or having a tea party.
Floortime strategies for helping children build symbolic play:
* Identify real life experiences your child knows and enjoys
* Respond to your child's desires through pretend play
* Encourage role play with dress up, puppets, etc.