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Adult modelling facilitates young children’s generation of novel pretend acts

The present work investigated the effect of modelling on children’s pretend play behaviour. Thirty-seven children aged between 27 and 41 months were given 4 min of free play with a dollhouse and associated toy props (pre-modelling phase). Using dolls, an experimenter then acted out a series of vignettes involving object substitutions, imaginary play and attribution of properties. Children were subsequently provided with an additional 4 min free play (post-modelling phase). Consistent with past research, more pretence was exhibited after modelling than before. Furthermore, in the post-modelling phase, children were as likely to generate their own novel pretence as they were to copy the actions demonstrated by the experimenter. They also increased the number of novel symbolic acts involving imaginary play from the pre- to the post-modelling phase. This study highlights how young children will not only imitate a model’s demonstration of pretend acts but also use this demonstration to catalyze the creation of their own pretence. Copyright © 2008 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.