A familiar saying (at least in my world of developmental psychology, my husband doesn’t remember ever hearing this quote…) says that
The work of children is Play.
Pretend play is actually an important facet of child development that fosters creativity, imagination, and problem solving skills, for starters. Good problem solving skills are helpful for overcoming obstacles, school success, math skills, learning to read, and mastery motivation, or the drive to persevere and reach success. In a similar way, studies have shown that the play more typical of fathers, that involves teasing, such as setting up pillow “road blocks” for a crawling infant, influence a child’s cognitive development involving problem-solving skills in a unique way that mothers are not as likely to play a role.
Thinking back to my childhood and kids with whom I interacted, doesn’t it seem that we always wound up trapped on an “island” (perhaps a playground fort or a living room couch or a child’s bed), surrounded by hot lava or a shark-filled ocean? Then, we are stuck with solving the problem of how to move around the room, fetching friends or toys or water, without touching the “lava.” This was a practice in problem-solving! Even my 1.5-year-old pretends to be a puppy and has to problem-solve to know how to pick things up when both hands are busy crawling, or how to eat like a puppy, or how to communicate as a puppy without using human words. So, encouraging pretend play is not only fun and entertaining, it is also developmentally productive.
Kitten mask on Off the shelf is something you can make to encourage pretending to be an animal. Of course, pulling out some cups and having a pretend tea party, crawling around like puppy dogs, playing dress-up, taking care of baby dolls, etc. are all great ways to pretend!
To prepare the materials, we went ahead and stapled a paper plate to a paint stir-stick (they’ll typically give them to you for free at Lowe’s or other paint supply stores). Since the stick was rather thick, the staple was kind of pokey on the back, so we taped another corner of a plate on top of that to make it more safe. Then, we stapled two ears to the top of the plate by folding a plate in half and cutting that into thirds, so each ear is actually 1/6 of a plate. Finally, we cut one eye hole (we’ll cut the other hole when we try it on the toddler so that your kiddo can actually see through them! Then, depending on the child’s age, I went ahead and drew on the nose/mouth before letting my toddler loose with the project. So, the front/back photo is the prepped mask before we crafted as a mommy/toddler team.
The hippopotamus song (by Mary Rice Hopkins) has great motions and pretending to be a big, heavy hippo! Watch the video on youtube for the full experience – even my 1.5-year-old can act out the chorus on the first try.
This popular song in Kindermusik, “In my House,” is really all about repeating three words with your toddler: “Dust, Dust, Dust!” Somehow, just repeating those three words in a sing-song voice causes toddlers universally to go crazy with delight and use any rag or cloth to pretend dusting everything in sight! Seriously, it is a strange phenomenon; you can also use words like “scrub” or “wash” and practice opposites, like dusting High and Low, encouraging your toddler and preschooler to reach as far as they can and clean like Mommy! Here’s a cute video on youtube to check it out.
The last song rec, “The Mulberry Bush,” is a classic, but it’s the second verse that is all about pretending and acting out grown-up actions: “this is the way we wash our clothes,” and this can be changed to whatever you want to pretend, e.g. this is the way we walk the dog, fold our clothes, brush my hair, rock the baby, tie my shoes, wiggle my toes…the possibilities are endless! Let me know your favorite ideas!
Both of these stories feature imaginative children. Fancy Nancy by Jane O’Connor is a series full of ideas to add imagination and creativity to every day life. The 1964 Caldecott winner and classic, Where the wild things are, by Maurice Sendak, is about one long episode of pretending to go to a wild land by a boy in a wolf costume. Both books are beloved and sure to spark some imaginative play.