Pretend play is arguably the most important of all symbolic languages for the preschool child.
In pretend play, children combine many other symbolic languages. When four boys want to transform the loft room into a jail, they write signs, draw bars, calculate capacity, build with blocks and negotiate their plan using lots of spoken language.
Pretending inspires children to interact with more focus, intensity and persistence than other activities. Many a “best friendship” is forged in the course of pretend play.
In pretend play, children imitate adults and practice becoming who they will be. They are doctors, rock stars, mommies, construction workers, firefighters, daddies, circus performers, restaurateurs, storekeepers, astronauts, soldiers and teachers.
And in pretend play, children focus inwardly on their own questions and feelings, and grapple with big life issues. Pretenders can be super-powerful — Spiderman, Power Rangers, God — and they can be super-vulnerable — hungry babies, kittens, orphans. They can be virtuous and helpful — the caring mother, the heroic rescuer — and they can be naughty beyond anything they would try in real life — robbers, monsters, skunks that spray, parents that punish their “bad babies.”
We support the development of pretend play when we provide plenty of age-appropriate props, like dolls,doctor tools, shopping carts, little people, toy animals and vehicles; recycled real objects like checkbooks, telephones and cameras; lots of pens and paper; and an abundance of loose parts that can be anything at all, like scarves, recycled foam, blocks, and sand.
We support pretend play when we document the games kids invent, and ask them to tell the stories they are acting out in their play. With care not to take over the play, teachers take an active role in extending, supporting and facilitating children’s pretend play. And we make time for acting familiar stories, our own stories, and real-life dramas like the Montgomery Bus Boycott.
Most of all, we support pretend play when we allow plenty of time and space for it to happen. Kids pretend throughout their mornings at school, and throughout the classroom — kids using clay, kids at the rice table, kids laughing at the snack table, kids dressing up in the loft room, kids building with blocks, kids designing with color bears, kids making lists at the post office, kids running fast around the playground, kids stirring water and cornstarch at the water deck — all of them are pretending. Ask and they’ll say, “We’re making birthday cakes because it’s Ian’s birthday” or “I’m Dora and she’s Diego and we’ve saving the baby animals” or “Run! The dragon is breathing fire!” or “This is our yucky poison soup that we give to the bad guys” or “This is the bed for my baby.” These are the voices of young children learning and living wholeheartedly.
I am the King-a. I am the creature. I am the fear.