On the wings of imagination: the Symbolic Game

As a kids, every place can become magical, thanks to the symbolic game. The kitchen of my house often became the Little Mermaids’s kingdom, and, with a dive from the couch, I could meet many fish, starfish, hidden treasures, the witch, other mermaids, King Triton and the Prince Eric. The symbolic game was one of the most exciting activities of my childhood. My fantasy brought me everywhere, I could be on Aladdin’s carpet, play a volleyball match, or teach at a kindergarten despite my tender age.

What is the symbolic game?

The first game the a child experiences is the perceptive game, which appears after the first year of life and is expressed through the senses. The next step is marked by the experimentation of the symbolic game. The child explore the environment, and begins to consider objects as symbols and metaphors of objects that are not really present, and thus as tools for implementing imaginary or past situations.

The symbolic game is the game of  “pretend that I was mother and you daughter? I am an astronaut and you my helper and we were exploring the moon together?”.

The actions imagined and performed by children during symbolic play are sometimes the result of their imagination, but they are often situations they see daily in their lives. How many times have we seen children wash a doll, change diapers, build a house with lego, sing with the remote control, drive an airplane sitting in a chair?

Children reinterpret situations that live in their daily lives by putting themselves in the shoes of someone else.

To play pretend is therefore a fun and exciting activity for children, but at the same time it represents an important and fundamental activity for their intellectual development and for the evolution of abstract thinking. Through the fantastic ability of symbolic transformation of experience, fiction activities offer children the opportunity to rebuild reality, to represent it mentally, to learn to give the right weight.

When children play a symbolic game, they are putting themselves in someone else’s shoes to experience different roles and learn to look at things from a different perspective. By identifying with the many existing characters the child experiences the first experience of “affective, relational and cognitive decentralization” and understands that there are different ways of being and different interpretations of reality.

Symbolic game is therefore important to develop a kind of relational, flexible, open, confrontational, discussion and exchange ideas. The stage of symbolic play shows that the child has come to master two levels of thought: the reality-based level and the fantasy-based level. Psychologists and educationalist give great importance to the study of symbolic game.

In fact, it opens a window on the inner world of children As the children play, they do not re-interpret the reality as it is, but they give their own interpretation, through which they express life, vision of the world, fears, emotions. For this it is good to look at children playing.


How to promote the symbolic game?

The ideal would be to provide the child with various materials that he can use freely during the play time. Boxes, old clothes, hats, necklaces, dolls, pots, cutlery, and junk. It is important to take part in the games (if requested by them) of our children by setting aside the superficiality and trying to put themselves fully in the role of our character.

We can also propose activities such as: playing the market through which the child can learn the value of the exchange; To play with the craftsman, to create together with our children toys made by you through creative recycling; Play role-swapping, mother and dad become children, and parenting children, you experience the value of putting yourself in the shoes of the other; Playing together with interactive applications. technology comes to us with some apps specifically designed to implement symbolic gameplay.
Mash&Co is one of these. Play together with your children by helping Mash and Periwinkle save the forest from the drought. Invent your story: for this purpose you and your kids have the opportunity to record your own voice on the animated scenes, in order to enhance children’s imagination who can thus tell their story version, increasing their logic skills. This triggers a mechanism that helps parents to create constructive sharing moments.


Letizia Grasso, Educationalist
“All grown-ups were children, but few of them remember it” This phrase is engraved on my heart. The child who marvels at small things is always with me. I firmly believe that the school should focus on self-construction of knowledge through direct contact with the outside world and, therefore, through the experiences of life. A school open to life and from life itself learns. A school that teaches to observe every little thing, to wonder and to ask questions. A school that forms adults who know how to reflect and put into a relationship the mind and heart.”