My toddler has been subjecting Morris the monkey to eat play dough “sweet potatoes,” complete with a bib that he insists the poor monkey wear. He will also tear the play dough into pieces, just like how his mom and dad dice or mash his food for him. And of course Morris’ meal isn’t complete without a cup of milk and water to wash all that play— er, sweet potato down.
With his imagination chugging along, my toddler has entered the world of pretend play, and I couldn’t be happier.
With pretend play, kids are able to act out and therefore better understand events that happen in their lives. For instance, my toddler has since been pretending that it’s time to go to Morris’ house. “What are you going to do at Morris’ house?” I asked him.
“Eat snacks,” he promptly responded. That he continued to act out a situation similar to the morning routines we have of him going to my aunt’s house—with snacks and everything—isn’t too much of a coincidence: he may be acting out a common occurrence in his life and is perhaps starting to grasp why he goes there most days instead of staying at home.
Pretend play also allows kids to regain some of the control that often feels lost in the World of Big Adults. The fact that my toddler can decide what Morris eats and how much, as well as spoon-feeds and offers Morris his cup of water helps him feel like the adult in their play. Now, as the “bigger” person, he has the say on all matters.
On a similar note, pretend play can help kids in situations where they feel particularly vulnerable and emotional. When my toddler had to visit the doctor for a checkup, he was able to switch roles and assume the character of the doctor on his “patients” to ease with the often uncomfortable feelings of being probed and examined, however well-meaning and important the reason. Or perhaps a child going through the difficult transition of moving to a new home will pretend to pack up his belongings to bring it to his new house, a.k.a. the walk-in closet.
At the root of pretend play is the robust imagination that kids come very well-equipped with. For my toddler, his desk has morphed into a rocket, apparently the same one that the bear from one of his favorite books Mooncake takes to zoom to the moon. Encouraging pretend play boosts and reinforces their imaginations, so much so that a desk converts to a rocket that zooms, a playground into a house, or Legos into pasta (apparently the large green piece is lasagna).
And just a few minutes ago, as my toddler protested against taking his nap, did pretend play come in handy. As he sat crying on my lap with Morris in tow, I asked him, “What do you think Morris wants to do right now?” And he responded, “Play in the living room.” We then held a conversation with Morris, with me explaining how sad Morris must feel that he can’t keep playing in the living room, but that resting makes him stronger. Better yet, once the nap is done, both Morris and LO can resume their game.
My toddler sat listening to me explaining why “Morris” had to nap and only then calmed down enough to agree that maybe a nap will be okay, especially since Morris gets to play right after. He was able to channel whatever frustrating emotions he felt in a play scenario and share the burden with his fellow toys.
I’m excited to witness my toddler begin to develop pretend play and channel his emotions and strengthen his imagination. Plus, it’s just so darn cute watching him “talk” to his animals.
How has pretend play helped your kids? How do you encourage pretend play?
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