I hope we’ve established the importance of pretend play with our last post titled “Play Schmay! What’s so great about pretend anyway?” and a link to a fantastic article also highlighting the benefits of pretend. BUT, once you know and believe in the benefits of pretend, you still may be at a loss and not know where to begin the pretending, so here are my three rules for how to get started.
1) Start small, grow big.
Some people don’t realize that pretend play is actually a continuum that develops over time, just like any other childhood skill. At first, it begins small, with something like hugging a baby doll, with one action and with familiar activities of daily life. It slowly increases to sequences of actions and then to include abstract ideas that are part of a fantasy. It takes time though and knowing where your child is on the continuum of pretend play is important. So let’s go through some examples.
My daughter has loved pretend play since she could walk. She carries a baby doll where ever she goes and applies her daily life to the baby doll. It began with giving the baby hugs, then she found a spoon and fed the baby. Now she puts the baby in a highchair, gives it a bib, cooks eggs in her kitchen set, seasons the eggs with her seasoning shaker, puts the eggs on a plate, gets out a spoon and a cup, and feeds the baby. She’s also extended this activity to the Little Stories mascot, the purple rabbit, and other baby dolls and animals. So, over the past eight months, she has slowly expanded this pretend play scheme from one action to seven sequential actions and also generalized the scheme from one toy to several. BUT, these are still concrete actions that she’s seen over and over every day. Pretend play stays concrete for awhile but slowly begins to expand from object to object and to less frequent experiences, such as going to the doctor or visiting Grandma. These experiences are not as frequent as getting a hug or eating a meal, but they are still concrete activities to which your child can easily relate.
Then, finally, your child becomes an abstract thinker, can reason, and can create. THAT’S when your child can go to the moon, become a mad scientist inventing a new race of aliens, or travel to the depths of the ocean to visit water-loving ponies. So, understand where your child is on that pretend continuum, keep expectations realistic, and encourage developmentally appropriate play.
2) Know your child.
Pretend play doesn’t come naturally for every child and each child is different in their level of need for structure and assistance in pretending. You may have a child who amazes you each day with new pretend play schemes and begging you to come along to the race track on Mars or to see the dinosaurs from the window of the Time Travel Machine. OR you may have a child who struggles with pretend, and gravitates to other types of play.
Although pretend is meant to allow your child to run wild with her thoughts, it’s ok if you have to structure it some for your child to get her in the game. You may have to begin by having two baby dolls available, one out and ready for your child, and one where you model feeding, rocking, and shushing. You may be the one setting up the grocery store and asking your child to check you out. In those situations, try to allow the activity to provide the structure, use your character to give direction, and keep from being the “Play Boss” where you tell your child directly what to do at each step. For example, if you are playing grocery store, look around and say, “Hm, I wonder if anyone works here. I wish could find someone to pay for my food. Ma’am, do you work here? Can you check me out?” rather than “Ok. Now you stand there and I’ll pay you.”
Once a pretend scheme is familiar, such as the grocery store scheme, structure it less and less. See where your child goes with it. Then begin to introduce and structure new schemes so your child expands her repertoire scheme by scheme.
3) Steal ideas and keep it fun.
Your child is GOING to want to play the same pretend schemes over and over. Remember that as a child everything is new, and your child needs to practice things over and over to work out all of the details and imprint experiences in her memory. So even if you’re sick of going to the ice cream shop, try to suck it up and enjoy your cone!
The good news is while your child is still practicing those old schemes, you can introduce new schemes that may become old favorites. The best way to do that is to steal ideas from other creative people.
You can start by checking out some great blogs, where moms all over the world are getting creative in their pretend play with their kids. I loved these recent posts by Imagination Tree on doctor play, Dinosaurs and Octopuses on dress up play, and Rainy Day Mum on boats.
Then, get ready, because my absolute FAVORITE thing to do in all of my work with children, and the inspiration for the name of this website, is to act out stories from books. The idea that “pretend play is a story” comes alive when children begin by acting out stories from real books. They already have images to relate to when creating their play actions from the pictures they’ve seen in the book, and their understanding of the words and language in the story is deepened by having acted out and lived the experience. Acting out books brings print to life!
So, take a book, gather as many real objects as you can from the story, put them in a bag or box. Tell the story by pulling out each of your props as you go. Then put the book away, but leave out the story props. Again, know your child and how much you may need to structure the experience, but allow the story to unfold and repeat this experience daily until your child is fairly independent in telling the story. You will see that your child will never look at that book in the same way. Her eyes are now opened to the magic of stories on a whole new level.
What was your child’s first pretend play scheme? Where is your child on the continuum of pretend play? Have you ever acted out a book before?Email this article »