What Research Says About Pretend Play

What Research Says About Pretend Play

If you search 'scholarly articles on benefits of pretend play' you'll get over 355,000 results! The benefits are well studied and significant for young children's development. Some benefits include: 

  • Social Development: In preschoolers (4 and 5 years old) results from a play study indicated that during pretend play "children's social interactions were more enjoyable, lasted longer, involved larger groups, and showed more play involvement and greater reciprocity."  (1) 


  • Creativity: "In elementary aged girls (5 - 8 years old) results from multiple play studies indicated that pretend play could improve play and enhance creativity." (2) 


  • Language Acquisition: "several studies have been conducted to verify the effect of pretend play on the development of children’s language in various aspects including semantics, syntactics, and pragmatics" (3) 


  • Self-Regulation: "The research...suggest that make-believe games are forerunners of the important capacity for forms of self-regulation including reduced aggression, delay of gratification, civility, and empathy. When children use toys to introduce possible scenarios or friends, the representation of multiple perspectives occurs naturally. Taking on different roles allows children the unique opportunity to learn social skills such as communication, problem solving, and empathy" (4) 

So we conducted some of our own research (n=615) to understand how parents perceive pretend play and how happy they are with the products they currently have. Here's some of what we heard from parents: 

  • 85% of parents perceive pretend/dramatic play to be "Extremely Valuable" 
  • Pretend play is rated 3rd highest out of 10 categories in perceived value, only behind reading and physical movement 
  • Parents buy dollhouses and play kitchens to foster pretend play with nearly 30% of respondents with a dollhouse and 47% with a play kitchen
  • Dollhouses had the highest frequency, length and duration of play. They were used on average a few times a week for up to 20 minutes at a time and remained engaging for up to 12 months 
  • And yet.....dollhouses had the lowest Net Promoter Score (NPS) score, an indicator of general satisfaction with the actual product (more to come on what we heard in interviews with parents!) 

We started to wonder:

  1. What is it about dollhouses that doesn't seem to meet families expectations?
  2. How might we build better products to foster the benefits outlined above?
  3. How might we create expansive experiences that create open invitations for pretend play?
  4. And how might we also solve for the issues parents identified with the dollhouses they currently own? 

Our research into these questions led us to conversations with experts who've spent years designing some of the most loved dollhouses. And we all became passionate about how we might revamp the dollhouse experience to extend the quality and duration of play.

We've surveyed nearly a thousand families and conducted play observations and phone interviews with families across the country but we still want to hear from you! If you have a story about a well-loved childhood dollhouse, or a request about what you'd like to see, drop us a line at hello@tinyearthtoys.com. We'd love you to be a part of this journey! 

If you're inspired by the promise of pretend play, we invite you to join the waitlist for Tiny Spaces, launching this summer. 



1. Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, Volume 9, Issue 3 "Social Pretend Play and Social Interaction in Preschoolers

2. American Psychological Association. "Fostering pretend play skills and creativity in elementary school girls" 

3. Sage Journals. "Pretend Play and Early Language Development—Relationships and Impacts: A Comprehensive Literature Review"

4. Scientific American. "The Need for Pretend Play in Child Development"