Academic journal article American Journal of Play

What Do We Know about Pretend Play and Narrative Development? A Response to Lillard, Lerner, Hopkins, Dore, Smith, and Palmquist on "The Impact of Pretend Play on Children's Development: A Review of the Evidence"

Academic journal article American Journal of Play

What Do We Know about Pretend Play and Narrative Development? A Response to Lillard, Lerner, Hopkins, Dore, Smith, and Palmquist on "The Impact of Pretend Play on Children's Development: A Review of the Evidence"

Article excerpt

An article byAngeline S. Lillard and others in the January 2013 issue of Psychologi- cal Bulletin comprehensively reviewed and criticized the existing body of research on pretend play and children's development. Nicolopoulou and Ilgaz respond specifically to the article's critical review of research on play and narrative devel- opment, focusing especially on its assessment of research-mostly conducted during the 1970s and 1980s-on play-based narrative interventions. The authors consider that assessment overly negative and dismissive. On the contrary, they find this research strong and valuable, offering some solid evidence of beneficial effects of pretend play for narrative development. They argue that the account of this research by Lillard and her colleagues was incomplete and misleading; that their treatment of relevant studies failed to situate them in the context of a developing research program; and that a number of their criticisms were misplaced, overstated, conceptually problematic, or all of the above. They conclude that this research-while not without flaws, gaps, limitations, unanswered questions, and room for improvement-offers more useful resources and guidance for future research than Lillard and her colleagues acknowledged. Keywords: narrative skills; pretend play and child development; research assessments

ANGELINE S. LILLARD and her coauthors (2013a) have produced a compre- hensive critical review of research about the effects of pretend play on various dimensions of children's cognitive, linguistic, and socio-emotional development. This article has already generated some useful discussion (in the commentaries that accompanied it), and it will undoubtedly have a significant impact on a wide range of ongoing debates about the role of play in children's development and education. Here we will address just one portion of the article's ambitious overview, its consideration of research on the purported benefits of pretend play for promoting children's narrative abilities. One reason this subject deserves careful attention is that children's early mastery of narrative skills is increasingly recognized as helping to lay foundations for their acquisition of literacy and long-term academic success (Reese et al. 2010). This subject also has important implications for considering the proper role and potential value of spontaneous play and "playful learning" in early-childhood education and elementary school (e.g., Hirsh-Pasek et al 2009; Nicolopoulou 2010).

Following the lead of Peter K. Smith (2010), Lillard and her coauthors distinguished between three possible ways to interpret research findings that appear to show a positive relationship between pretend play and development. First, pretend play may be uniquely necessary and crucial for the development of the skills or abilities in question. Second, it may be one of several factors that can help promote such development (equifinality). Third, the relationship between pretend play and the development of the relevant abilities may be epi- phenomenal, meaning that both result from another factor and pretend play makes no independent contribution to development. Lillard and her coauthors sometimes characterized the claim that pretend play is crucial to development as the "causaF' position. This formulation is misleading, however, because both the first and second claims entail causal relationships between pretend play and development. Accordingly, in this article we focus on the central ques- tion of whether pretend play promotes or contributes to the development of children's narrative skills and, if it does, in what ways. Whether or not a causal relationship between pretend play and narrative development is, in addition, a crucial or essential relationship is also a significant question-but, in our view, a secondary one.

In their article, Lillard and her coauthors argued that widespread claims for the developmental benefits of pretend play are mostly overblown and unsup- ported. …

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