Pretend Play Across the Preschool Years: Defining and Observing Its Developmental Progression

Brittany Nicole Thompson

Advisor: Thalia R Goldstein, PhD, Department of Psychology

Committee Members: Tim Curby, Adam Winsler

David J. King Hall, #1024
April 29, 2020, 02:00 PM to 04:00 PM


Pretend play is an important activity of early childhood, but research has yet to make definitive causal connections between pretend play and other developmental outcomes (Lillard et al., 2013). Pretend play is defined by its five core components: object substitution, attributing pretend properties, social interactions, role play, and metacommunication. This dissertation is the first to measure all five of these components simultaneously, making an important contribution to the field. Children were observed during free play time in their preschool classrooms and research assistants coded the natural pretend play behaviors in which children engaged. The regression-based data analysis demonstrates some support for a developmental progression through these five components of pretend play across the preschool years. These results will aid future research in identifying how each behavior relates to other aspects of children's development, moving the field towards mechanistic explanations of how pretend play benefits children.