By Dorothy P. Dougherty
One of your fondest childhood memories may have been the time you sat
at a small wooden table and pretended to sip tea with your dad.
Perhaps you can recall playing with the enormous box that had
contained your family's new refrigerator. The possibilities were
endless in your new fort, school, hospital, or bus.
Research has shown that during childhood imaginative play, we develop
our ability to think logically and creatively, and solve problems in
adulthood. When you encourage your child to dream and pretend, he
learns to use his imagination to see beyond what already exists, and
give him the courage to explore the unknown.
Birth to Three Years Fantasy play begins shortly after birth
as your baby watches, listens, and copies your tongue movements,
gestures, or sounds. The next step toward fantasy play usually begins
when a child is twelve to eighteen months old. He may begin to copy
familiar caretaking routines, such as sweeping the floor, or raking
the leaves. The big difference at this age is that he does these
activities even when you aren't doing them. At around eighteen to twenty-four
months, his imaginative play may shift again as he begins to perform
pretend activities with his dolls and stuffed animals.
Two and three year old like to practice talking, by talking to
themselves. These monologues often occur anywhere, including when
your child is going to sleep, playing in the bathtub, or riding in
the car. Listen as your child pretends he is a wise, familiar adult.
He is using words to live out his fantasies. When your child pushes a
box across the floor and says, "vroom," he is pretending
that the box is a car. This shows that he understands symbols, or how
one thing can stand for another. Later, this skill will help him
understand letters and numbers, which are also symbols.
When you see your child engaged in pretend play, offer encouragement
and suggestions. If he appears stuck, elaborate on what he is doing
or suggest a new direction. For example, if he is pretending to give
his teddy bear a bath, you might suggest that he wash his hair next.
If he is pushing a truck around on the floor, ask him if he is
selling ice cream and what kind. If he tells you he is a dog, offer
him a pretend bone.
Generally, children at this age have an interest in things around the
home. Encourage your child to make breakfast for you and sit down for
some scrumptious pretend pancakes. Take this opportunity to help him
learn to use please and thank you. Many children enjoy pretending to
be other people, such as, a cowboy, fireman, or nurse. As most
articles of clothing are too difficult for him to put on, fill a box
with some simple props for pretending. An old handbag, tie,
nightgown, adult size gloves, and different hats are great for
pretending. Of course, it is always wise and recommended to supervise
your child closely. He may also love to create situations and
disasters with miniature animals or cars. Toy vehicles are usually
favorites as they can be used for fantasy as well as action play.
Three and Four Year Old Between three and four years of
age, your child will relish in all aspects of imaginary and dramatic
play. You will be amazed as he acts out his understanding of the
world and its' people. As he pretends, he often asks and answers
questions. He may also use pretend play to act out his own fears and
anxieties, as he re-creates a recent doctor's appointment, or creates
an upcoming stay at a relative's house. Many props will do including,
a travel bag, apron, scarf, hat or any old clothes you have around
the house. Old greeting cards, paper tubing from paper towel or tin
foil rolls, shirt cardboards, or gift wrapping make great pretending
props. Gift, shoe, jewelry, oatmeal, spaghetti, or small appliance
boxes can stimulate a young child's imagination too. Watch as they
become building blocks, musical instruments, or spaces for collecting
his treasures. Indoor tents, a sandbox, swing set, or climbing gym
will make great places for his imaginary play.
Under your close supervision, give your child a small white sheet.
Watch your child transform into a ghost, snowman, superhero, or
bride. He may use it as a cover for napping, or a blanket for a
picnic in the living room. Drape it over two chairs and make a fort.
Bring a flashlight inside and read a book together.
Utilize the power of words to foster your child's imagination. Play,
"What if" by asking your child open ended questions, such
as What if you were a giant, or What if you lived in the zoo? As you
closely supervise your child, you can join in on the fun and help him
reach his highest potential.