Four-year-old Douglas ties a pretend cape around his shoulders and climbs onto the couch. He yells out, “Super Douglas to the rescue!” Then he swoops down and rescues a toy mouse from the clutches of his pet cat, Mr. Roberts.
Superhero and fantasy play are very important in the lives of preschoolers. Still young and small, they’re under the constant supervision of adults. This exciting type of play, where they get to be powerful and in charge, is paramount in their quest for independence and self-discovery.
Reaching New Heights
Fantasy play is one of the primary ways young children practice new physical and social skills. Four-year-old boys, in particular, are thrilled to practice their gross motor skills with karate chops, kicks, and jumps. Threes and fours learn to see things from the perspective of others during make-believe play.
While experimenting with these roles, preschoolers like Super Douglas have the opportunity to creatively explore being the “good” guy or the “bad” guy — an elementary introduction to the concept of good versus evil. They often act out fantasy versions of struggles they see around them, like a tussle on the playground or an argument between their parents. As 4 year olds become involved with such themes as capture and rescue or attack and flee, they learn to solve problems together and try out different roles.
Fantasy play also gives some young children the courage and strength to work through their fears in a safe atmosphere. If, for example, a child is afraid of monsters at night, she might invent powerful magic words to scare them away. Pretending to be a superhero or magic character can help a child gain a sense of control and feel strong enough to confront an intimidating situation.
Of course, fantasy play is also just plain old fun. It allows kids to be wildly creative and use their imaginations in wonderful ways. Next time your little one flies in on a rescue mission, don your own cape and join in. Talk with her about all of a fantasy character’s positive traits — like kindness and cunning — not just physical strengths, and be sure to set limits so the active play doesn’t get out of control or cause any injuries.