How to encourage imaginative play through small world exploration

April 5, 2017 Published by


How role-playing apps can help your pre-schooler understand emotions and make friends

No doubt you’ve watched your child chatting away to themselves many times, perhaps while their toy dinosaurs dig through your plant pot, and wished you could see the fantasy they are in. This make-believe play (which is also known as small world or role-playing) is your pre-schooler’s way of making sense of the world around them.

Through imaginative play your child is acting out situations they have seen or been a part of, like having an argument with a friend, or watching you make dinner.

By taking on the roles of the different characters, they are learning to see the same situation from many perspectives, developing their sense of empathy.

How did they make their friend feel when they had an argument?

Why does mum get annoyed when they don’t eat their peas?


Child looking out to sea


It also means they can act out hypothetical stories, like imagining how their behaviour might affect a friend, without the risk of criticism. In this way, make-believe is a safe way for your child to learn how to navigate social situations. Personal, social and emotional development (PSED) is key at this age - for example, teachers believe PSED is more critical to a child’s school readiness than being able to read or write  - and make-believe play is a brilliant way to support this.

Screen time isn’t typically synonymous with PSED, but there are some very good apps that can inspire children’s imaginations in a similar way to small world play sets. They can even add to children’s play with immersive worlds and interactive elements that drive children’s curiosity.

Our testers are big fans of Dr. Panda, from the open-ended gameplay to the expressive characters. So we couldn’t wait to try out their new app, Dr. Panda Town, and find out whether it would join the other nine apps from the developer that have already made it into the Good App Guide. We weren’t disappointed!

“Our award winning apps go beyond the boundaries of books and toys, empowering kids of today to go further than ever before.”   - Dr Panda

in-app preview of Dr Panda Town


Introducing Dr Panda Town

Dr. Panda Town has the same wonderfully interactive feel as the other apps we’ve reviewed, with even more new environments to discover. The familiar settings (like the park and the supermarket) really inspired children’s make-believe play, with props to experiment with and characters to control. Our testers were also delighted to find that there are a few hidden secrets around town.

With over a third of pre-schoolers playing on tablets independently it’s good to know that the Dr. Panda apps have taken safety into account too; there are no external links, unrestricted in-app purchases, or third party adverts, which many free apps have.

Understanding emotions and making friends are incredibly valuable skills for pre-schoolers to learn, and make-believe play is a great way for them to do this.

Whilst screen time is by no means a replacement for traditional play, a few well chosen apps are a wonderful addition to a balanced play diet.



Sponsored Article: This article may contain links to internal / external content related to our sponsor. All opinions are our own and all products mentioned have been approved by Fundamentally Children through strict, independent testing processes.


Photo Credits:

image_075 by Brad Flickinger licensed under CC BY 2.0



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This post was written by Anna Taylor

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