Pretend Play (page 3)
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.
Pretend play provides for literacy events in a variety of ways. Through thoughtful infusion of literacy tools in play areas, Mrs. Hanna encourages her kindergarteners specifically to use reading and writing behaviors in real-life, functional ways during their play (Morrow & Schickedanz, 2006). She provides a moderate amount of theme-related literacy material to complement other playthings, recognizing that too many literacy props might interfere with play (Roskos & Christie, 2001b). Cookbooks by the play stove and storybooks by the doll crib encourage emergent reading. The scrap-paper notepads beside the phone in the playhouse offer a constant invitation to write. Youngsters use the notepads in many of the ways they see their families using writing. They not only take pretend phone messages but also write notes to one another, notes as reminders to themselves, and grocery lists.
It is important to note that writing in pretend play is usually pretend writing, even when the writer is capable of more sophisticated strategies. The benefit of this writing seems more related to understanding the function of print than the form (Hatcher & Petty, 2004; Morrow & Schickedanz, 2006). Children tend to explore their more advanced understandings of print when writing for real situations or audiences (Fields & Hillstead, 2001). Nevertheless, children’s understanding of print and their visions of themselves as writers are enhanced through writing in pretend play because it offers an authentic context for literacy (Korat, Bahar, & Snapir, 2002–2003; Roskos & Neuman, 2002).
The play store generates lots of writing. Mrs. Hanna reminds the kindergarten children that it is important to have a list for shopping, so many grocery lists are made. Each youngster writes a list using whatever form of writing that child chooses. Some children create some readable, phonics-based spelling; others draw pictures; still others may write in squiggles; and some find the real words to copy. Most lists reflect a combination of approaches. Newspaper advertisements for sale items inspire some writing as well as some reading. Mrs. Hanna encourages literate behaviors with questions (Korat, Bahar, & Snapir, 2002–2003). For instance:
How can you help yourself remember what you need to buy?
How can people find out what is on sale at the store?
How do shoppers know how much things cost?
What is a receipt? Why do you need one? (Fields & Hillstead, 2001, p. 14)
Setting up the grocery store involved many literacy events too. After deciding on the name of the store, a committee of children made the store sign. Then they noticed that the shelves needed labeling and that the food containers needed to have prices marked on them. A few youngsters noticed that food packages brought from some classmates’ homes had labels written in various languages. One group of youngsters printed the money to be used in the store. The children learned much more from setting up the store themselves than if the teacher had done it for them.
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