I’ve written about pretend play before (woah! that was two years ago!), and I’m sure it’ll come up again, but there have been some recent developments with pretend play around here that I’m finding sort of exciting.
A friend recently asked me: What’s the big deal? Why is it important? I told her that it’s important for a lot of reasons. A lot of learning happens when kids pretend, mostly they are making sense of the world.
September 11th, 2001 was the first day of school in the town in Massachusetts where I was teaching. My kindergarteners were freshly groomed and adorable and excited for their first day of school…all of which was overshadowed, by the terrorist attacks. Some of my students knew people that were on the planes that crashed. Over the next few weeks all of the kindergarten teachers at the school reported that the kids were playing “crashing airplanes”. One boy would set up a block tower and make a toy airplane knock it down, just to set it back up and repeat the scenario over and over. The kids in my room were lining up the chairs and playing passenger and flight attendant. They were using play to make sense of the terrorist attacks, to try to understand it better.
That classroom was bilingual. Half of my students were primarily Spanish speaking and half were primarily English speaking. I taught half the day in Spanish and half the in English with the goal of each student learning to read, write, speak and understand both languages. As my students played together I could see that they were teaching each other much more than language. While playing house one day, a little boy emptied the doll clothes into the toy sink to pretend to wash them. He dunked and scrubbed the little clothes in the waterless sink with impressive fervor while the other kids looked on mesmerized…heck…while I looked on mesmerized! Washing clothes in the sink was a new idea to a lot of us in there, but was obviously something this little boy was adept at. I loved seeing all of the ways my students learned and practiced experiences through their play.
As I’ve mentioned before, my own boys are not very interested in pretend play.
Andrew has gotten a lot better at it. Most of his play involves flying something around while he makes rocket noises…but sometimes I hear him talking quietly to himself as he plays. Pretending still isn’t a preferred activity for Andrew, and he’s found other ways to work things out that are bothering him. A few years ago, when he was being evaluated for Special Education, he began an EXTENSIVE maze drawing period. The maze drawing would come and go almost exactly in tune with the stress factors in his life. The more change and stress he was experiencing, the more mazes he would draw. He wasn’t using pretend play to work things out, instead he found something else that seemed to suit him better.
Isaac has been learning pretend play in school. They actually sit with him and teach him how to do it. His speech therapist does it as she works on prepositions with him. His teachers do it as they work on sharing and interacting with other kids. When I drop him off at school I’ve noticed he’s started to request time with little play sets: a school, an airport, the bucket of dinosaurs.
So, for his birthday I thought we should invest in this a little more. We got him a little playmobil school and friends of ours got him the playmobil school bus. He liked it, but it seems like he’s really not sure what to do. Yesterday I sat down with him to play.
We named all of the students after his classmates and call the teacher by his teacher’s name. The kids all arrived on the bus and came into the classroom for circle time. Then snack time, story time and rest. He was pretty into it. All of the ideas were mine and he just followed along, but he really enjoyed it…especially when we sang the songs they sing at school. While playing with him I noticed who his favorite classmates were because of how often he would reach for and name two of the kids. One of his favorites is a little girl…a total social butterfly who often greets him with a hug. She’s non-verbal, but her messages are clear as day: play with me. And although Isaac usually gives her the cold shoulder, I could tell by watching him play that she really was getting through to him. He genuinely enjoys her, though it doesn’t look like it when I watch them in person.
I also noticed how much opportunity there was to teach Isaac about being with friends through this little set. Yesterday, while the toys were having snack, there was not enough juice to go around, so some of the kids shared. (He had the the little boy we’ve decided is Isaac share with the little girl he likes.) It made me wonder how many other scenarios we could practice on this small scale and if he really WOULD transfer it to his behavior in school. It’s definitely worth tinkering with!
I used to feel so bored by pretend play that I found it painful. I really liked watching my students play, but I didn’t like doing it myself. I couldn’t think of anything to do! My story lines would run out and then what? But with a little toy school and a fascinating kid to work with, I’m feeling pretty encouraged and interested to see what might come of it.
I recently made beer bread with a bottle of Blue Moon Spring Wheat. It has great flavor and no beer was needed for me engage Isaac in pretend play. Good news all around!