Most of you know how significant I believe pretend/dramatic play is for our children – how essential it is to have access to materials and props children can pick up, look at and magically have them become whatever they need them to be.
For you know… a rectangular block is not just a block. It can be a boat, a cake, a present, a house, a cell phone and more in any veteran- child- pretender’s imagination.
Cleaning closets this weekend, I came across a few empty shoe boxes. I have to admit I find them hard to throw away. They seem so functional. But they also nostalgically remind me when my sisters and I were young and we’d use a shoe box to make cradles for our dolls. The top would be taken off and inserted vertically at one end of the box. With a little pillow or blanket put inside and string that my mom would attach, we were thrilled to be able to pull our “babies” wherever we went.
There were other uses of shoe boxes too. They were particularly good for collections – of shells, rocks, popsicle sticks, chestnuts – you know, treasures.
I love the story of the two young sisters who began with an empty box and turned it into a doll house. For weeks, they created things out of cardboard and junk – furniture, people, everything made by them, by their own hands and their own initiative.
When their grandmother saw the fun they were having with their doll house, she decided how much more fun they would have with the one she would buy them for Christmas. It was a brand new perfect doll house, completely furnished, a set of people ready to take up residence. The girls were excited, of course, at first – but the enthusiasm, satisfaction, and magic that was fostered in the making of their own house from a box – from scratch, was not present with this already perfectly finished house.
It soon was just another toy in the corner.
I bring all this up now because I read about the nursing baby this weekend. It’s a baby doll on the market that comes with a colorful vest for the child to wear that has flowers over the nipple area. When the doll is lifted to the flowers, it makes a suckling motion and sound.
However, I can’t tell you how many times nursing moms have told me how their young children take their doll or teddy bear and pretend to sit and nurse just as they’ve seen their own moms do. A child watching and copying – on their own – without the need for instructions that come along with the nursing doll.
For that’s what pretending and dramatic play is. It’s children observing their world and interpreting it through their play. The more basic and raw the material they have at hand, the more their imaginations and creativity are put to work, the more intrinsic the understanding and development that occurs.
There is much important research out now that recognizes the value of imaginary play. There’s also more and more toys on the market that provide children with such absolutely realistic play things that they leave little to the imagination or problem solving skills. Play is most valuable when children interchange objects to represent something else – when their creative process is being fully utilized, when the fun is in the discovery and the satisfaction of using their own clever devices.
Otherwise, it becomes just another toy in the corner.