What is the Most Important Activity in Your Young Child’s Day?
|My nephew and Covey|
Young children need time and opportunity to figure out the world. They do that through exploring their curiosity. From the time they are born, they are learning about their world through their five senses. Newborns react to your touch and their eyes look to see another face. They grow a little and learn that they can reach out to grab something and bring it to them. That first lesson in cause and effect lays the groundwork for all the learning to come. By the time they are preschoolers and for many years after, they strive to create, build and become a part of what must seem like a huge world around them filled with bigger people, big emotions and so many rules. They wonder what it feels like to be superheroes, moms, dads, dinosaurs, dogs and cats. They figure out the world and how it functions by pretending. The most important activity in your young child’s day is dramatic play.
My nephew, like many other 3 year old children, has a favorite blanket. He named it. After all, everything else around him has a name. The blanket’s name is Covey. Covey talks. My nephew uses a squeaky voice to express Covey’s thoughts and wishes. Covey converses with all of us, including my nephew. Anyone who has been around young children knows that using alternative voices to make toys come to life isn’t so unusual. I remember being a young girl and “speaking for” my dolls. The most fascinating thing about my nephew’s talking Covey is that they have conversations and don’t always agree. They have different favorite colors. They don’t always agree on which TV show to watch. My nephew might want to play with one toy while Covey prefers another. My 20 year old son thinks that their divergent opinions are hilarious. He loves to watch a good debate between my nephew and his Covey. I love to watch it, too. It confirms everything I know to be true about the importance of letting children have time to pretend.
My nephew is experimenting with every facet of his world every time he picks up Covey. He is reinforcing what he knows about friendship, sharing and caring when he insists that we use a seat belt to keep Covey safe in the car. He reaches outside his young, egocentric self when he comforts Covey and hugs him. He demonstrates knowledge of respectful disagreement, discussion and negotiation when they try to decide which TV show to watch. He can argue safely and experiment with how it feels to win and to lose. My nephew even pretends to diaper and feed Covey just like his mother does with his infant sister. He is playing the role of a parent who is responsible for someone else. He is Covey’s caregiver, protector, friend and family.
Every time a child pretends to be mommy or daddy, that child is gaining insight into how it feels to be big, patient and responsible. Children always pretend to be their pets. They ask us to pet them so they can find out why the dog likes that so much. They try to be superheroes to feel powerful. They pretend to be everything and everywhere that they have ever seen either in person or via TV and movies. They are not merely having fun imagining. They are adding to their ability to have empathy as they fill roles to see what “fits.”
Dramatic play isn’t limited to children. We never stop imagining. Adults don’t as readily put on costumes or play with dollhouses but we certainly play out scenes in our imaginations. We anticipate the reactions of others to good and bad news. We prepare what we will say in different circumstances and imagine how every scenario will end. We rehearse in our heads. We have internalized the most important tool for growth and development – dramatic play.
In an era when our children have calendars that rival any adult schedule, we need to remember to save time to let them imagine and role play. When they do, watch them. Watch to see what lessons they are trying to grasp. When you observe carefully and don’t interject, you will see that the increasing understanding of their world is palpable. You can practically feel them becoming strong and empathetic. By giving them the gift of time to pretend, you will lay a foundation from which they will find themselves and their place in the world.
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Copyright 2013 © Cindy Terebush
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