Pretend play refers to children’s playing make-believe roles. It is sometimes called sociodramatic play or dramatic play. Many classrooms for young children have a playhouse center that encourages this type of play through props such as make-believe kitchen appliances, doll furniture, and dress-up clothes. Ms. Montoya makes sure that the play kitchen in her multiage-primary classroom includes a variety of utensils, such as a tortilla press and a wok, so that all her students’ home experiences are reflected. Ms. Reynolds takes care that preschooler Shana and her walker have room to move around in the playhouse area.
Now let’s watch Isabelle, who has a long scarf tied around her waist to simulate a skirt. Banging pots and pans around the playhouse, she admonishes two dolls propped at the table. “Hurry up and eat,” she says. “We’ll all be late. I have to get to work on time.” When Jackson wanders in, Isabelle adds, “You be the dad, and then we’ll get divorced.” She hands him one of the dolls and tells him to get the baby dressed. But Jackson wants to cook. He drops the doll and says, “I’ll fix the dinner.” Isabelle gets visibly upset and yells, “No! I have to go to work now. It’s morning.” Jackson continues to try to mesh his goals with Isabelle’s and suggests, “Let’s pretend you came home now, and I fix your dinner.” Reluctantly, Isabelle agrees but insists that she has to leave first and then come back.
An observer of this play scene immediately notices the amount of talking involved. It is obvious that pretend play encourages practice with oral communication. The give-and-take involved in negotiating a script and playing cooperatively requires a high degree of explicitness in speech. The negotiation process also provides children an excellent opportunity for practice in social skills, especially in becoming less egocentric. As children find out that others might not see things their way, their drive to play with other children causes them to compromise their initial positions. Realizing that theirs are not the only views of a situation represents intellectual as well as social growth.
The condensed form of time in pretend play—in which events of several days are represented in a matter of minutes—helps children think and notice connections between events (Bondioli, 2001; Sinclair, 1996). Pretend play fosters general intellectual development partly because it assists with reflection—thinking things over (Piaget, 1962). As children think things over and act them out in this way, they begin to develop coherence in their thinking (DeVries, 2001). Because they cannot retain ideas in their heads to mull them over as an adult might, children play them out. If Isabelle wants to understand her mother’s impatience of that morning, Isabelle is helped by reenacting it.
Although pretend play is not the same thing as putting on a play, sometimes Ms. Montoya will notice a detailed plot emerge in pretend play, and she will encourage the children to make it into a written story. This mirrors the developmental sequence suggested by Vygotsky (1978) that begins with oral language, is demonstrated in symbolic play, and ends with the use of written language. Because this is a multiage classroom, spanning ages five through eight, youngsters who need help writing can consult with a more competent classmate. Ms. Montoya will take dictation if requested and will help children reconstruct their pretend play into a written narrative theme. This assistance allows the youngsters to explore their topic more fully and also provides them with more literacy experience. Children get to see their play and their ideas take written form, and they will practice reading as they review what was written.
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