Preschool Play (page 2)
The years from ages 3 to 5 are a marvelous time to sit back and watch children represent everything and anything with the greatest of imagination. You begin to get a view of their perspectives of the world, of people, of life, and of who they are. Watching their symbolic play is especially revealing of how they perceive the happenings around them, so we begin to describe preschoolers with a discussion of the changes and capacity of their symbolic play.
Symbolic Pretend Play
As they leave toddlerhood, young children continue to represent themselves in their pretend play, but they expand on their representation of and actions upon others (adults and objects). They pretend to comb their own hair, pretend to comb dad's hair, and pretend to comb a doll's hair. That same play begins to get more complex as the child talks for the doll or her dad, or when the child attributes feelings to a stuffed-toy dog or his mom.
Keeley often talked to her pretend baby in the napkin as if the baby had needs or likes. "You like to be rocked, don't you?" she would say. Later, she would talk for the baby: "I want a bottle," she would say in a baby voice. Keeley began to assume other roles and her symbolic pretend play began to reveal much of her life. Her favorite play was in the role of "teacher" and the adults in her family had to sit on the floor to be read to, or get ready for their naps, or wash their hands for lunch. Her words, tone of voice, and kinds of directions may tell you much about what her day was like.
The kind of symbolic pretend play in which children assume the role of another continues to gain complexity. Children usually begin with familiar roles, that of mother, father, or other relative, then to adults in their lives, such as teacher, doctor, grocery clerk, librarian, or bus driver, to name just a few. The next level of such play is when the child assumes an unfamiliar role, one about which he has little or no information. Even without experience, children roleplay astronauts, ballerinas, cowboys, and police officers. Young children of this age also often act out the roles of husband and wife.
During this time, children use objects a great deal but give them human qualities. Keeley could manage two roles—that of herself interacting with her doll and that of the doll expressing her wants. We heard her change voices for each role and it was quite impressive.
Pretend Play with Peers
We encourage you to observe children's play because there is so much to learn. Another interesting focus for your observations is the pattern that you can see in their processes when they engage in pretend play with other children. First, you will see an initiation phase, a time when a child is approaching a play activity, or deciding on with whom to play, or scanning an area to consider a play choice. Some children are quite good at initiation, and others may need your support.
The next phase of the pattern is a negotiation phase, when children decide the theme of their play, the roles each will play, and any kind of rules or structures. The last phase is the enactment phase. This is the time the children have been working up to—when they will actually pretend together. This is when they enact the scenarios that they negotiated. Watching this process gives you an insight into the potential complexity of children's pretend play.
A parent approaches you with concern about her child's "pretend world": "I worry about all the pretending Lisa does. She pretends to have playmates and she plays with them. She -pretends to be different characters each night at supper and insists that we go along with her. Is it possible for her to be pretending too much? What benefit could all this pretending have?" Respond to Lisa's mother.
You may have some ideas to share with Lisa's mother, but you may also feel that you could use more convincing information. What we have learned from observations of children's play is that we can tell so much about what they understand, what they are thinking, and their concerns and confusions. As we continue, you will learn about other ideas to comfort Lisa's mother.
When you watch preschool children, their interpretation of roles and other forms of pretend play tell you about their understandings. The way they present their understandings is called a scheme. Schemes are children's concepts of what is real in terms of objects, actions, and roles. A child may show you her scheme of what a cash register or a scanner is by the way she pretends to use it, or may show you her scheme of what a beach is by the way she pretends to be there. Young children begin with simple schemes, but during preschool years, they combine and carry out different levels of schemes in a sequence, and eventually have multischemes. Watch the children in the following scene and identify the schemes and look for different levels in a sequence.
Eli and Amanda: Schemes
Eli and Amanda are playing "house" (their word) at preschool. Amanda is using a duster to dust the varied furniture items in the dramatic play area. She swishes it over the top of the table and china cabinet, then pauses to appreciate her work. "I'm making the house nice and clean," she tells Eli. "I'm making a stew for us," he responds. He gathers an assortment of plastic vegetables from the refrigerator, pretends to wash them and cut them up, then puts them into a pot. He begins to stir the pot and sniffs it, saying, "Umm, it smells good."
Amanda is pushing a wheel toy and making a vacuum sound all around the area. Later, she appears with a purse over her arm and indicates that she's going to the store. "Do you want anything from the store?" she asks, but Eli shakes his head as he continues to stir. When she returns, Eli tells Amanda that the stew is ready. She sits at the table and waits to be served. Eli brings some dishes to the table and puts the pot in the center. He ladles out the pretend stew into their dishes and begins to eat.
After a minute or so, Amanda says, "I bought some ice cream for us." She goes to the refrigerator, pretends to take something out, and brings them each a dish and spoon. Both children enthusiastically eat their pretend ice cream.
Identify the schemes in the play you just observed. What kind of schemes does Amanda have? How about Eli? What schemes do both children have?
The ultimate goal of children's symbolic or pretend play is "to integrate meaning derived from their experience with knowledge and skills from all developmental domains as they create roles or scenarios" (Kostelnik, Soderman, & Whiren, 1993). What that means is that play provides an opportunity for children to pull together previously learned ideas, information, and skills, and connect new ideas, information, and skills into physical, emotional, social, and cognitive learning. As children experience kindergarten and primary grades, their play will progress and their symbolic play will become more complex and exciting. The physical play of preschool-aged children changes, too, as they mature, taking on a complexity and seriousness.
© ______ 2008, Merrill, an imprint of Pearson Education Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. The reproduction, duplication, or distribution of this material by any means including but not limited to email and blogs is strictly prohibited without the explicit permission of the publisher.
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