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Pretend Play - Don't Throw it Away

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.  

This book teaches the parents of children with articulation problems how speech sounds develop, how to recognize developing speech problems, and how to help children make the most out of speech therapy. It also provides parents with activities to increase their child's language and articulation skills.

About the Author

Dr. Lauren Bradway has a Master's Degree in Communication Disorders and a Ph.D. in Human Ecology. Dr. Bradway has specialized in working with children for over 20 years. In addition to running a successful clinical practice as a speech language pathologist, she is a consultant to pre-schools, elementary schools, and bilingual programs. She trains teachers to develop Individual Learning Style Profiles for classroom use.


Other Articles By Dorothy P. Dougherty

What Did You Say? May Is Better
Hearing And Speech Month

Sites to See

American Speech Language-Hearing Association

Braille Bug
For young children, an interesting way to learn about braille.


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