CREATIVITY TOOL #2: PLAYING PRETEND *
For me, there is no other activity in which imagination rules so freely as in pretend play. I LOVE the way place looks after kids had a good long pretend game! The leftover chaos has an unmistakable quality of hard work combined with inventiveness and fun. (Oh, don’t get me wrong, I do not like cleaning up that mess, but I would allow it again and again!)
Children are so naturally innovative and flexible, so everything goes. I remember smiling when opening toy purse filled with plastic hotdog, money, ring, cup, plastic animal, and pencil (the stuff my 4 year old packed to go on pretend adventure). Things get mixed and matched: blocks, costumes, toys, and household items. And that is the best kind of creative play!
So what can we, adults, do to encourage creative dramatic play? Let’s start by providing children with some basic stuff.
The Best Toys are Generic Ones
Who said blocks are only for building? Simple wooden blocks are the most generic toys. They are also ones of the most versatile toys. Their plain geometrical shapes make them perfect replacement for any item in dramatic play. Need a cellphone? Use a block. A table for toy people? Use a block. A toy bed? You’ve guessed it! I’ve seen children reaching for blocks even to replace hair drier and hair brash while playing hair salon. And this is exactly how having wooden blocks encourages creativity and flexible thinking in children: simple shapes can practically be anything they wish them to be.
My other favorite is blanket (old sheet, curtain, table cloth, etc.) You might remember using it yourself in your childhood: building forts, making capes, using as picnic blanket. Here are a few more ideas: incorporating blanket as part of a landscape in a dramatic play. Blue blanket could be pretend ocean for a ship to sail, yellow or orange – beach or desert, green – grass. Actually, if you have colorful placement mats, kids can use them the same way too. In fact, even construction paper could be used to create a scene.
Most importantly, just provide kids with a blanket. They will come up with ideas.
Remember Toy Story? Different characters living in the same room and enjoying play time with the boy? Mixing and matching generic toy characters (like man, woman, child, toy animals, dinosaurs) with special characters (superheroes, Disney characters, etc.) allows children’s fantasy soar.
Grown-up Stuff, Costumes, and Household Items
Children love household items as well as grown-up stuff (purses, wallets, old cellphones, old cameras, straw hats, sun glasses, etc.) This is great for us, adults: we always have this kind of objects available. It’s also very important for children: not only pretending being adults helps them to build confidence, it’s also stimulates their imagination. Especially, if they use these items in a novel way. For example, use pot lid as driving wheel.
And don’t forget the costumes! They are not just for Halloween, and they don’t have to be fancy. Kids will make use of any combination of grown up clothes, their old costumes, and homemade accessories (here is a good time to use that blanket for a cape).
Ideas for Rainy Day
Usually kids have no problems coming up with ideas for dramatic play, but occasionally, they run out of steam. What can we do to get them back in the groove? Here are some ideas.
- Have Christmas in July and Halloween in March. In childhood, holidays and birthday parties can happen whenever children are ready for them. So, pretend to deliver the presents and go trick-or-treating anytime. Here is the craft (video on a left) to help you to prepare for trick-or-treating pretend style.
- Play pretend Library, Postal Office, Vacation, Birthday Party for a toy character or stuffed animal, Circus, or Amusement Park (spin upside down umbrella with stuffed animals for the best carousel in town).
- Make it funny: dress up in a wacky way, cook disgusting stuff, sell funny products (for example Lego blocks ice cream).
Make Connections With Fine Art and Classical Music
Listen to classical music and watch ballets (you may start with fragments). Then reenact favorite scenes with the music. Here are some ideas:
- Saint-Saëns’ Carnival of the Animals
- Dukas’ The Sorcerer’s Apprentice
- Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker
- Tchaikovsky’s Sleeping Beauty
- Respighi’s La Boutique Fantasque
You can always rely on fine art to find ideas for dress up play. Use the opportunity to discuss fashion of the past (wigs, long gowns, funny looking hats and shoes, etc.) Just check out some famous artists. Here are just a few ideas. Feel free to use your own favorite artworks.
- Goya (fashion of the past, king and queen, soldier)
- Rubens (fashion of the past, soldier)
- Van Dyck (fashion of the past)
- David (fashion of the past, soldier)
- Velázquez (princess)
- Unknown authors’ portraits of Queen Elisabeth 1 (queen + one more)
- Renoir (kids fashion)
- Manet (fashion of the past)
For more fun and educational ideas and activities for kids ages from Pre-K through elementary school visit my group on Facebook.