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This post is part of an ongoing series on the different types of First Look activities.

Last week we talked about investigation activities that are planned for Make It Fun each week. Role-play activities are the other half of that duo. And, sometimes they work hand-in-hand. An investigation activity may call for your preschoolers to act as detectives, look for clues, and carry a flashlight as they explore God’s world. The children will enthusiastically assume a different identity just because it’s fun—and they won’t even suspect that they are learning and growing at the same time!

Pretending, or acting “as-if,” helps children understand how it feels to be in another person’s shoes—literally and figuratively. When a three-year-old wobbles around in her mommy’s high heels and a four-year-old wears his older brother’s football cleats in the yard, they are seeking to “copy” a person they love and respect. In our small groups and classrooms, we can build on that natural desire to pretend by providing simple props and preparing the environment.

Role-play activities provide opportunities for learning to empathize. It shifts attention from the child, who is naturally self-absorbed at this age, to someone else. It is a way to experience a point-of-view different from their own. It is a way for children to know why God made everyone, loves everyone and that Jesus wants to be everyone’s friend.

As a side benefit, your preschoolers who may be quiet, fearful, or hesitant to express themselves are often more comfortable when they assume the role of someone or something else. You may be surprised at the child who has yet to speak a word or make eye contact when he “becomes” David fighting off the bears and lions or she transforms into Joshua singing and marching around the walls of Jericho!

What will you do this week to encourage your preschoolers to understand someone else’s experience through role-play?