I’ve written several times on this blog about the importance of pretend play in your child’s development. Pretend play is a reflection of the way your child’s brain is processing what goes on in the world around him. In a cognitive as well as emotional sense, pretend play is a bridge to your child’s mind.
As s/he grows and develops, you can expect your child’s pretend play to become more complex and sophisticated. That means at age one year, you might notice your child patting, hugging, or bottle feeding a doll. You’ll think its adorable when s/he “talks” on the phone. At age two, your little girl or boy will be feeding and putting a doll to bed. By the age of three most children of both genders will pretend to cook, and use multiple sequential steps to prepare their favorite imaginary dishes. These steps may include pouring, mixing, baking, and serving food.
At this stage, age 3-4 years, the beginnings of sequence concepts form in your child’s mind. Sequence concepts are the understanding of events or items coming in a logical order. For example, first we put toothpaste on the brush, then we brush our teeth, and lastly, we rinse.
In many ways, sequence concepts are the underpinnings of strong academic skills. Your child’s play is preparing his mind for processing complex information. Right now your child is undressing her doll and putting it to bed. Or, he may be loading passengers into a toy airplane and then racing down the runway. This paves the way for story comprehension and retelling, a key to early reading and writing. The sequence skills developed through play and conversation will help your child become a reader and writer, and may help him understand concepts in mathematics.
To facilitate mastery of sequence concepts, get involved in your child’s play. Make believe with your child as if you were a kid again. Introduce your child to events happening in sequence. Here are just a few ideas, although there really is no limit to what can be imagined!
- We’re going on an airplane: Pack your bags and buy a “ticket”. Have your child board the plane and fasten seatbelt. Pretend that you are taking off. Serve beverages and a complimentary snack. Prepare for landing!
- Let’s make a surprise party! Prepare a party for an imaginary friend, stuffed animal, or doll. This is so much fun and sooo dramatic! Bake a cake, set the table, hang up “decorations”. Hide until the friend comes and then shout “surprise!
- Adopting a new pet: “chose” your new pet from a selection of stuffed animals, and pay for it. Take it home and give it a name. Prepare the new pet’s bed and meals. Introduce it to other family members.
Because pretend play is a bridge to your child’s mind, it is also a tool to help prepare him for an upcoming event like a wedding, holiday party, doctor’s visit, or vacation. Role-play the scenario, taking him through the sequence of events from beginning to end. You never know; it may help you feel more prepared as well!