As a child, I remember us going on long drives. My father in those days loved driving and we would often make impromptu plans to drive away from town. In most of those jaunts, my favourite place in the car was the boot. We had a Maruti Van (Omni) in those days. It was large enough for the luggage, me and my toys. I loved carrying my ranna-baati, my kitchen set. Maa tells me, I would keep busy for hours. As a child I also remember playing ‘teacher-teacher’. Do kids play that today? I would place my old and used notebooks in a row, put my Mickey blackboard against the wall. I would read from a book, scribble something on the book and teach my imaginary class.
What my mother didn’t know then, and I didn’t until I became a mother myself, is that this kind of play is what is called Pretend Play.
I follow a lot of blogs on parenting and early education. Anna from Imagination Tree is a particular favourite. Reading her views on why play is important was really an eye opener. Not that I undermined child’s play, but I realized the importance of it in a holistic way. I realized V had started playing (Anna’s way) much before I read about the various kinds of play. I just started noticing his pattern.
So when he liked emptying his toys and getting into the play basket himself, I thought it was cute. Or when he crawled his way into the kitchen and toppled the onion & potato basket to drag it around the house, I felt he wanted a new toy.
Or when he discovered wooden fruits in the summer camp, he was all smiles to find a juicy, wooden carrot that he could splice and join again.
Or the tea party that his teacher organized in class? We, mothers were very amused that boys took a fancy for cups and saucers. But really, in this age of Master Chef, should we look at it with surprise if the boys were indeed interested in picking up the ladle. Junk the stereotypes, I say!
Recently I picked up a few craft books that lets us cut out cardboard and make into shapes. V and I made a bed recently, and he tested it with Snoopy and his wooden lion on it.
On another playful day, I discovered V was busy with his shape sorting box. He wasn’t using the shapes, but using the box as a house for his play animals.
What I love about watching V indulge in pretend play is his concentration. He likes not to be disturbed and only wants attention if he can’t do something that he wants to. Imagination is a beautiful thing and so is play. And when you realize that they co-exist, the outcome is beautiful.
What is Pretend Play?
To me, pretend play is random play by a child using an object or toy giving it a role and function that exists in his imagination. So a carton when turned can become a room for toys. Or a bowl and spoon in the hands of a child imitates the pot and ladle that he sees his mom with in the kitchen. Humour him a little and he may even feed you his imaginary food. We do this all the time during meal times. J
Imagination is what sparks creativity. It is also what sparks invention and even favourite Indian way of getting things done, juggad! Remember this adorable Maruti ad, with a child driving his car around the house?
Yes, this is an example of pretend play too!
Why should you encourage it?
Because very simply put, a child is using his own imagination to put life and character to his play and toys. Every time your child grabs your phone, try giving him his toy phone. On days when he is not really interested in Angry Birds on your phone, he may well be interested in talking to his imaginary friends. We bought V’s first play phone from Hamley’s. We were sitting on a bench in the mall and I remember him making a fuss to get off. So I took out his phone and gave it to him. He tapped a few buttons and put it to his ear. The next thing we know is that he is walking towards the aisle, with the phone stuck to his ear and he blabbering away to glory! J
More than I enjoy watching V playing, I love playing with him more! Here is what I do or try to do on most days, see if it works for you!
a) Get down on hands and knees
Your child may have a preferred place of play. For V it is usually the drawing room or our bedroom. On the drawing room floor, I enjoy sitting with him and playing with his toys. We look into his toy basket, pull out toys he likes and play.
b) Pretend play yourself
If your child has not started playing on his own, then maybe it is a good idea to show him first. One of the first instances of pretend play was when we gave V a bowl and spoon at meal time and asked him to feed me. I said, “Wow, this is yummy Vihaan. I want to eat more.” He smiled and he put in a spoonful of his imaginary food into my mouth again.
c) Give it time
He loves his cars, so I recently made him a parking lot on the floor using coloured cello tape. While I showed him how to maneuver the curves and take his car in and park, I realized he didn’t understand much. So I let it pass. He will see the fun in it when the time is right!
d) See, learn & improvise
We happened to watch Superman one day. On the TV I mean! A part of me really wants him to grow up and love his superheroes and I want him to have his own collection of Marvel and DC Comics. But since the film was on, we sat down to watch it together. While Superman went about saving a plane from crashing, I was telling V that Superman is so strong that he can lift an aero plane. V quickly got off from the bed, ran to his piles of toys and pulled out his own air plane. So while we were watching Superman bring down the plane to a baseball ground, V was lowering his own plane on the floor. My little Superman! J
e) Choose the right toys
The problem with us adults is that we are too grown-ups! We scoff off child’s play as easy. But we fail to look at the world as a child. And trust me, if you leave your busyness at the door and sit down to play as a child, you will realize there is a lot of fun in it. So what are the toys that spark pretend play? Do all kinds of toys make the cut? We have tried pretend play with stuffed animals (our favourite). V’s frog nowadays wears a tshirt every day. He also changes his clothes like V does. Teddy has joined the list too. Blocks are a favourite too. Though V has outgrown the activity of stacking them, what he uses his blocks now is as a glass to feed his stuffed animals. Cars are a favourite for the boys, and I recently bought him two construction vehicles. Play dough is another favourite. While until now, we are learning colours with play dough, what I really want to do with play dough is this. We have bought play dough from the market, but I plan to make some play dough at home too. You can always use some plain and simple maida or aata. Try reading this book to your child – a perfect recipe for imaginative play.
So does your child engage in pretend play? What does your child enjoy playing with? Do you observe your child at play? What lessons is your child deriving out of his own play?
A part of what I will now do on this blog is to share all the fun things that we are doing as parent and child. What are the discoveries that we make and the lessons we learn. We will also share reviews, views and experiences of growing up. I hope you have fun watching us grow up!