I’m an early childhood teacher. I’m a mother to a three year old. And I. don’t. like. to. pretend.
This is a big confession and has been a huge struggle for me, especially as a parent. I can pretend at school – I can put on a good show while telling and reading stories to the class, and throw a little theatre into any learning situation with my 5 – 8 year old students. It’s the toddler and preschooler play that I particularly struggle with. Pebble, our daughter, has just turned three and she loves absolutely nothing more than pretending. This parenting challenge has reached its peak.
I know how important pretend play is. It is one of the most invaluable learning experiences that a child can have. Through pretend play children develop language and problem solving skills. They build social skills and learn how to create stories. The make sense of the world around them by playing out situations from their own lives. In the past week alone the pretend play in our house has included these real life themes:
- birth and families – a new sibling for her is arriving any day now
- death – why can’t she see Daddy’s Daddy?
- child care routines – Pebble goes to child care twice a week
- sleepovers – she had a sleepover at her Grandma’s house recently
- rules and consequences – every day issues!
It’s about time that I faced this parenting challenge head on and learned to embrace pretend play. Today I’m sharing advice for you and for me on how to enjoy pretend play with your little ones.
1. Learn How Kids Tick
Toddlers and preschoolers are learning so much about how to be in their world. They are still learning how to take turns, share and express themselves. Toddlers and preschoolers are still easily frustrated and can be impatient. Help them to figure it out by modelling sharing and turn taking, praising their efforts to do the same and finding a diversion when frustration hits. Also know when to hit ‘pause’ on the play and have a milk break.
2. Suck It Up
Children enjoy playing the same scenes over and over and over again. One afternoon we played “I’m the witch, and you’re the girl, and you get locked in the tower, and the fairy sets you free” about 99 million times. It’s going to happen. Accept it. And refer to number five if needed!
3. Try New Ideas
So you’re sick of playing witches? To try and escape playing victim to that witch quite so often, set up new play scenes. Try setting up a post office, a cupcake shop, a city or a school. Real life experiences capture children’s interests most, as they are able to connect with the theme more easily. Or try looking to your children’s favourite books and stories for inspiration.
4. Use Household Props
Look around your home for props in unexpected places. You don’t need expensive play sets – have a tea party with the Tupperware, use a pile of cushions to create a mountain, make a boat out of a washing basket or create a house under the dining room table. This morning our couch and a pile of cushions became a rocket bound for the sky! You are limited only by your imaginations.
5. Take a Break
Sometimes you’re going to get fed up of pretending to be the doggy and your little one will still want to play. Before everyone gets too frustrated try taking a break from the play altogether. Have a few activities in the back of your mind that you know will divert your child’s attention long enough for you to get the brain break you need – head out for a swing, make a snack together, check the letter box (one of Pebble’s favourites), play with blocks… whatever may take your child’s fancy. You can come back to the play later feeling a little more refreshed and ready to enjoy.
What’s your favourite way to play with your children? What type of play do you try to avoid?
Editor’s note: Sending congratulations to Kylie and her family as they celebrate the birth yesterday of a beautiful, healthy baby boy! Pop over to the Octavia and Vicky Facebook page for a peek and to say hi
- Can Toddlers Play Independently?
- Managing Play with Children of Different Ages
- Encouraging Independent Play
- Visit the Childhood 101 Imaginative Play board on Pinterest