We were on our way home from our restaurant of choice (because they have an indoor play yard) with the kids one night, when our 2 year old son started shouting in a desperate voice, “DAD! DAD!!!!” Our immediate response was to find out what was so distressing that warranted a call reserved only for blood-related injuries.
As it turns out, the kids’ meal toys were being put to good use as pretend play was abounding in the back seat. My husband and I were reproached for interrupting the “show”. And, once we squared away that we were, indeed, not needed at the moment and could continue the drive home, all was right in the back seat again.
Pretend Play is one of the benchmarks of toddlerhood. For their entire lives up until this point, children focus mainly on how toys work and how they feel/taste/smell/sound/look. But, somewhere around the time that language acquisition explodes and children discover their vocal capabilities, they find that they can CREATE voice. They can create many voices. And, they can manipulate the course of events in a new world called imagination.
The thought processes involved in engaging in pretend play are phenomenal. Not only is the child creating a character in their mind, but they are transferring that mental information into concrete action. Many of these scenarios stem from real-life events or what they experience through external stimulation (books, TV, plays, even people-watching in a park). Sometimes, though, they are completely created off the cuff by the child.
How amazing it is to remember a few months ago where our child was happy to bang his belongings into the back seat window, leaving us with the fear of losing the window – and now? Now he’s creating his own little world with his own mind, learning how the real world works and how things interact with each other. He can safely try out newly acquired words and phrases. And, he is using higher-order thinking by representing one concept with an object.
Next time you “catch” your child in one of these imaginary worlds, step back and watch the wonder of the human brain at work. Pretending is definitely more than its cracked up to be!