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THE POWER OF PRETEND PLAY

LITTLE THINGS ABOUT LITTLE ONES
Dr. Gayatri Bezboruah

We were discussing earlier about how our children should love to and want to play, and how what they do when they play changes and evolves with their age and intelligence and the opportunities they are exposed to.
Well, our children are growing and developing and changing in their capabilities and their handling of situations. As they develop the ability to represent experience symbolically, pretend play becomes a prominent activity. In this complex type of play, children carry out action plans, take on roles, and transform objects as they express their ideas and feelings about the social world.
Action plans are blueprints for the ways in which actions and events are related and sequenced. Family-related themes in action plans are popular with young children, as are action plans for treating and healing and for averting threats.
Roles are identities children assume in play. Some roles are functional: necessary for a certain theme. For example, taking a trip requires passengers and a driver. Family roles such as mother, father and baby are popular, and are integrated into elaborate play with themes related to familiar home activities. Children also assume stereotyped character roles drawn from the larger culture, such as nurse, and fictional character roles drawn from books and television, such as He-Man. Play related to these roles tends to be more predictable and restricted than play related to direct experiences such as family life.
As sociodramatic play emerges, objects begin to influence the roles children assume. For example, household implements trigger family-related roles and action plans, but capes stimulate superhero play. Perceptually bound younger children may be aided by the provision of realistic objects. Even three-year-olds can invent and transform objects to conform to plans.
By the age of four or five, children’s ideas about the social world initiate most pretend play. While some pretend play is solitary or shared with adults, preschoolers’ pretend or sociodramatic play is often shared with peers in the school or neighborhood. To implement and maintain pretend play episodes, a great deal of shared meaning must be negotiated among children. Play procedures may be talked about explicitly, or signaled subtly in role-appropriate action or dialogue. Players often make rule-like statements to guide behavior (“You have to finish your dinner, baby”). Potential conflicts are negotiated. Though meanings in play often reflect real world behavior, they also incorporate children’s interpretations and wishes. The child in a role who orders a steak and piece of candy from a pretend menu is not directly copying anything he has seen before.
Construction play with symbolic themes is also popular with preschoolers, who use blocks and miniature cars and people to create model situations related to their experience. A kind of play with motion, rough and tumble play, is popular in preschool years. In this play, groups of children run, jump, and wrestle. Action patterns call for these behaviors to be performed at a high pitch. Adults may worry that such play will become aggressive, and they should probably monitor it. Children who participate in this play become skilled in their movements, distinguish between real and feigned aggression, and learn to regulate each other’s activity.
So, enjoy yourselves as your children enter the beautiful world of pretend play. When they become parents and shout at us like we sometimes do at them, or when they serve us with food we hate and still have to eat…well, well, let’s pretend we don’t mind at all and yet, let’s learn our lessons too!!

Dr Gayatri Bezboruah is Professor of Paediatrics, Gauhati Medical College, Guwahati. She can be reached at drgbezboruah@gmail.com or melange.sentinel@rediffmail.com

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