5 Ways To Role-play with Children and The Benefits

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In our household, role-playing has always been a natural thing. Josiah now 9 learn about role-play from a really young age. According to WikipediaRole-playing is the changing of one’s behaviour to assume a role, either unconsciously to fill a social role, or consciously to act out an adopted role. While the Oxford English Dictionary offers a definition of role-playing as “the changing of one’s behaviour to fulfill a social role”,[1]

In other words, it is called Make Believe or Pretend Play. Letting children pretend to be someone else in a different setting. Psychology Today quotes that Pretend play is a healthy part of every child’s social, emotional, and cognitive development and should not be feared by parents or educators.

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We certainly did not read all these psychology sites to decide whether we should role-play at home or not. It was not just fun, but we knew how it would benefit Josiah and Jordan in language learning, in interaction and communication and even in social expression while growing up. I would like to share some tips I gained over nine years of parenting how to apply to role-play in our daily activities.

1) Playing Dress Up

From the above pics, Josiah was pretending to be Jack the Neverland Pirate. He loved the cartoon a lot and started talking like Jack and wanting to dress up as Jack. We even did crafts together and made his sword. We didn’t really have to buy any additional costumes, we just use what we have. The benefit is the time we spend together on the activity. At the same time, Josiah learned some facts about real pirates as it’s inevitable that he would start asking questions about what pirates really go beyond what’s in the cartoon show.

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Dressing up doesn’t have to be complicated or about a specific character. When he was really young around 2, Josiah really liked to find his own props and dress up as a hip-hop star. What we can do as parents are to keep a box of these props in their play area. Let their imagination run and they will dress up and become a new character. Usually, even the way he talks changes to another accent or he will start performing and singing for me.

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When he donned this wig, I still remember how he became a clown like character and made a lot of people laugh.

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2) Role-Play Emotions

With the boys, we started role-playing from the time they were born. I would always show them what is a happy face, what is a sad face, what is a surprise face, etc. Role-playing emotions is one of the easiest to do and yet one of the most important. It is so important for children to understand their emotions and how to handle it in situations. I will ask them, how do you feel when your friend won’t talk to you? How do you feel when you favourite aunt goes back to Sarawak?  I really wanted to bring up boys that do not keep their thoughts and feelings to themselves like the typical Asian stereotypes.

I wanted to bring up boys that can relate, communicate, express and show their feelings to their peers and eventually their future spouse. It is good when children understand themselves than when they get confused about what they should be feeling or not.

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3) Role-Play in Contests

Whenever the opportunity arises, we encourage role-playing through events or contests. Josiah once became a cute monster with other children in an event for Halloween. Some of the children played their role so well that they were truly scary. We can bring our children to events that require becoming a different role as usually this is run in groups with other children. They will learn how to socialize as well and how to be competitive too.

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Once, Josiah was Batman and daddy was Joker. Until today, he remembered this event as it was a great bonding time with his daddy. Not to mention, he gets to meet the ‘real’ Batman or so he thought.

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4) Role-Play with Crafts

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Making crafts is one of the boys’ favourite pastime. So why not craft and role-play at the same time. Josiah always made things from scratch and once he surprised us with his Iban Warrior costume entirely made of cardboard.

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After making these, he started reading and researching a lot about Iban culture and the culture of many other indigenous groups in Sarawak, where we came from. Fun can lead to knowledge, and that is one of the reasons why we enjoy role-playing together.

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Jordan too will make cardboard cars or houses and pretend he lives in them or drives them around.

5) Role-Play Professions
Role-playing various real-life professions is the common one for most of us. The children in Josiah’s school were encouraged to role-playing regularly too. Here, he was the doctor to all the classmates and they really learned a lot beside having fun.

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I do not buy gender-stereotyped toys when they were young. The boys really love role-playing as cooks. This is one of the most fun game we had as they would ask me to order food, cook for me and serve me.

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More recently, both boys really loved role-playing as army or police with guns. They started learning about all kinds of guns, from their names to their special abilities.

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This is a good time to teach them about justice and good guys vs bad guys and what is their role in all these. Benefits of role-playing real-life professions really open their eyes to the many types of work people do in real life. Life is not just about playing and having fun, there are responsibilities each of us needs to bear to ensure we can live in peace, law, and order.

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However, when there is no idea how to roleplay at home, we will head over to KidZania Kuala Lumpur because every profession can be found here. Josiah enjoyed being the doctor and the place he works looks like a real hospital, so roleplay becomes more than real in KidZania. Sometimes I will peep in from outside just to see what the little doctors are doing in their saving lives. Is it really like in the movies or in the real hospital? I notice how the children really need to work together to carry the dummy body on the table and each person will have their different parts to play. One will be doing the resuscitation, one will do the surgery, one will take notes and give blood. It was all very interesting and exciting. There is no better way to learn problem-solving while cooperating as a team than in these kinds of role-playing activities.

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Pretending to be firefighters is super popular with children here. Being a hero for the day, how precious is that memory. The fireman activity is not just about putting out the fire and having fun with the water. Before they even get to this stage, they need to ride a firetruck together, taking instructions from the supervisor and gathering in their groups. They need to ride the cart as a team and see who is the fastest team. All these really need a lot of teamwork to be able to successfully put out the fire eventually. Only in KidZania can children learn about teamwork while being in teams of people they met for the first time that day. It amazes me how well the children adapt to each other without prejudice and judgment. Everyone is a friend to each other once they step into this world run by children for the children. It is so empowering for the children to know that there is a place where they are respected and in control of themselves.

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KidZania is not just a place of fun, though it really is very fun. It is also educational because they get hands-on experience making something they might take for granted in daily lives. Something as common as a bottle of water. Josiah now knows the process very well from making the bottle itself from a small piece of plastic all the way to refilling it and how the machine works. He wouldn’t let anyone touch the bottle he made because it was so precious.

Well, I only mentioned a couple but there are really over 60 different establishments to role-play in KidZania. I can’t wait to bring the boys there again over these couple of weeks. When they play, I also have some me time at the Parents lounge for a cup of coffee. Hopefully, you can try out these ideas. Most importantly, listen to your own children whenever they want to role-play. It might take some effort on our part to prepare some props but it’s totally worth it. My boys remember all the memories we have role-playing together and hold it near to their hearts.

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