Imaginative play; a milestone to celebrate

This should be a milestone that every parent looks forward to.  When your child first starts to talk and play imaginatively by themselves!
Your child will need to be ready with plenty of language to make up play actions and stories, that they have seen in their everyday life.
Here Master2 placed a piece of cake with his monkey and told him ‘here, I’m just going outside’.
Since then he has relied on others to show him more play actions whilst making some up himself.  He will create longer and longer play scenes as he develops more language, attention and understanding of the world……….and then I will get more done myself!


It’s time to entertain’s called ‘free play’!

Do your schedule time in your children’s day as ‘free play’?  Do you let your kids get bored (& let them find their own games)?
A few ideas I use to encourage free play:
– send them outside…and lock the door (just kidding, but it can sometimes be tricky to shake the kids off you)
– give your children tasks to complete outside (& with any luck they’ll get swept up in their own play)
You can find language in your backyard – my backyard treasure hunt that can entice kids outside
– set up ‘play invitations’ inside – think my weekly play themes or even just setting up a few toys here and there to encourage them to be discovered and play with
– encourage collaborative play with spare boxes or a pile of dress up gear or a big bag of blocks
– make yourself look BUSY! too busy to get involved in case the kids try to include you.
 Here is a link about the importance of free play by Dr Helen Street. ‘Why over scheduling kids is robbing them of a life worth living’. Worth a read!
Don’t forget to take a look around in the different categories to see if I Raise My Kids is worth following for you! 🙂 Heidi

Becoming a play engineer – tip #7.

Kids play the best when toys are set up, ‘inviting’ them to play.  Once your children have enough language to play imaginatively, you can really invite them to play with a weekly theme throughout the house.  Whilst it takes that bit longer to set up, you will be sure to get many more play hours from your little ones.

So!  What will your theme be?  It didn’t take me long to pick animals + hospital/doctors/vets.  Master nearly4 loves animals and he and Master nearly 2 are both into doctors at the moment.  And of course, an animal theme is not too unfamiliar for Master nearly2.  Pretend play – your child’s occupation will give you more information on the different skills pretend play consists of.  Language means play will give you more information on the development of play and how language goes hand in hand.

Setting up

This is where you think about ALL the items in your house that might come under this theme.  So I went for everything animal, from our Aussie Animal cards to our baby dinosaurs to our farm animals.  And then you add in everyday items that would be useful props for the scenes, such as ribbons for bandages, cotton wool for the babies, wooden dish rack for the operating table/sick bay and pipe cleaners for their own imagination.  And then you can drag out any other props that might be useful, such as adding our cardboard box bus stop/airport and our Little People plane and bus for transporting the sick/recovered animals between the hospital and the wild.

Because I had so many sets of toys out, I created mini scenes in different rooms of the house.  The next thing to do was to introduce the boys to each scene and promote some different play actions, to get them started.  I also assigned doctor and nurse roles (big brother and little brother roles really!).  And then you sit back (or race to the kitchen or clothesline) and reap the benefits of excited play!  Here are some of the benefits..

Benefits of themed play

  • The story is halfway there, so the kids don’t have to create one from scratch (ideal for the younger ones)
  • You can easily give many hints at new play actions.  I have used: ‘go and check if bull’s fever has gone’, ‘I think panda needs his bath now’, ‘giraffe might be ready to go back into the wild, but before you put him on the plane, remember to check his heartbeat and temperature’, ‘the baby dinosaurs will all need a feed and why don’t you ask your brother to help you take them back to the wild in the bus’, ‘it might be time to help bull to get to sleep, it’s hard to settle when you have a fever’, ‘nearly your bedtime, go and give the night doctors their handover, what they will need to do while you are sleeping’….  I have even rung their pretend phone (an otoscope) as an anonymous caller letting them know of a sick hippo out in the wild.  Next thing they are receiving calls from each other!
  • There is a variety of toys out so different ages are still catered to
  • A child can walk into any room and make up a mini-story there, OR play between several scenes in across different rooms

Here are some photos to share with you all!

broken legs, cut on the tummy, the flu....

broken legs, cut on the tummy, the flu….

Special Care Nursery.. for dinosaur babies.  Also like special care where Master nearly4 spent a few weeks..

Special Care Nursery.. for dinosaur babies. Also like special care where Master nearly4 spent a few weeks..

'The wild'

‘The wild’

back to the wild....

back to the wild….

'the ball forest'

‘the ball forest’

so the injured bush animal is...

so the injured bush animal is…

'X' marks the spot...?

‘X’ marks the spot…?

What will your play theme be this week?  Be creative and drum up some excitement! Guaranteed it will pass over to your kids and you will have a fun week 🙂 Heidi

You can find language in your backyard!

Are you children interested in nature? Could they do with less screen time? Does your child love ‘treasure hunts’ or drawing? Do you need an activity that you can direct from the kitchen?

This activity promotes language-learning, getting outdoors, drawing skills and if need be, an opportunity for you to get the kids out from under your feet!  Of course you might find yourself out in the garden with your kids which is even better, providing you with fresh air and an opportunity to get to know your backyard better too!

Bring in the Backyard Treasure list! This is how we play:

1. Present your child with a special ‘notebook and artist pen’ and tell them they are going to find some treasures in the backyard.  They will need to listen up closely!

2. Challenge your child to find an example of each treasure description you provide (see list below for each treasure description).  Note, each description includes a word that the child must understand to find the correct item, great for language development.  You may need to discuss what the descriptive words mean before they go hunting.

Just a sample of ideas!

Just a sample of ideas!

3. The child must go and draw what they find, not touch.  This is to avoid little hands dealing with spiders and other not-so-safe delights in the garden.  Older kids might be fine to decide what they pick/bring back, but the main aim is for the child to then draw the treasure.  This is great practice for drawing what they see with the motivation of having a collection of drawings of their findings.

4. The child brings their notepad back to show you the drawing and to check if it fits the treasure description.  This is a great time to further promote your child’s language skills by discussing if the item fits the description and how they decided they would pick that particular item.  If it does not fit the description, you may need to provide some examples of the descriptive word, for example ‘wet means there might be water on it, it’s not dry‘).

5. Give the next treasure description.

For older kids, you could provide the written list, as above and let them go out and take on the task themselves.

This activity can then be repeated again and again, encouraging your child to find different items to match the descriptions.  Or think up a list of new descriptions!

Here is the list we have used so far:

  • brown leaf
  • a ‘forked’ stick (one with a ‘V’ in it)
  • a spider
  • something NOT green or brown
  • something moving (don’t touch)
  • something living
  • something when you look up
  • something you can eat
  • something wet
  • something man made
  • something that feels rough
  • something with a nice smell
  • something old
  • something new
  • a green leaf

Don’t forget even words like ‘NOT’ are descriptive words and are important for a child to understand.  A child may not understand the concept of ‘something new’  in the garden, so you may have to explain how ‘new’ relates to the garden.  If your child is not old enough for understanding words such as ‘man made’, think about some other descriptions you could add.  Here are just a few ideas to get you started – more descriptors of how items feel, look, colours, NOT….., quantity.  Remember the more you play with the same descriptions, the more your child has to think outside the box to find something different.

a few 'picked' items

a few ‘picked’ items

And if your child really does like to bring back a collection for you, why not save these in a basket and leave out for later imaginative play!

Let me know how your children get on with this fun yet educational activity!

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Understanding pretend play – your child’s occupation

[12 months +]  So what does pretend play really involve?

Thanks to Karen Stagnitti, an occupational therapist and expert on pretend play, here is a summary of the different components she counts as ‘pretend play’ and a rough guide as to when it might develop with your little one.  (Yes, this is a summary – learning about pretend play can be quite involved!).

Play themes – initially, your child will play with actions they have seen at home, everyday, such as having a drink or bath.  Towards two years, your child will start to introduce play themes such as shopping or cooking as experiences they have encountered, but not ones they have seen everyday.  Around two-and-a-half, your child will start to want to play with themes that are less frequently experienced such as doctors or traveling on a plane.  By three, your child will include themes they have seen in books and on TV.  By three-and-a-half, themes that have never been experienced such as spaceships, fairies and pirates will also be popular. Around four years, a child will start to include ‘problems’ in their play, to be solved, such as teddy getting sick or doctor running out of bandages.

impromptu play in the kitchen

impromptu play in the kitchen

Sequences – initially, your little one will perform one play action alone, such as giving a teddy a drink.  They will progress to complex storylines, that may last for days.  As your child sequences more actions together, it is like they are creating stories in their minds, showing where your child’s language development is at.  By two years of age, your child might be able to perform simple, logical play sequences such as feeding dolly and then putting to bed.  By two-and-a-half, this will be more detailed but not an actual storyline.  By three-and-a-half, a child will be thinking about what items they need for play and seeking them out, for example a bowl and spoon for cooking.  By four and five, children will be pre-planning a storyline.

using objects functionally

using objects functionally

Object substitution – initially, a child will use the object as it was meant, for example drinking from the cup themself.  By two years of age, your child should be able to go along with an item being used as another, such as a tissue for a blanket.  By two-and-a-half an object can take on several functions, for example a block as a car and then a phone or shops.  By three-and-a-half, children can pretend with actions or body parts, such as a finger for a toothbrush, pretending to push buttons for a cash register.  By four and five, a child’s flexibility of thought can allow for them to pretend even a teddy is a plane and they will use more language to support imaginary items.

feed monkey?

copying feeding monkey after my model

Social – At about 18 months, a child might imitate a pretend action, for example going to sleep and by two years, they will be able to imitate object substitution.  At two-and-a-half, a child may still play alongside other children and even imitate their play and even at three years, they may still not actually be interacting in play.  At four years of age, this is when language really assists cooperative play, including negotiating and planning.

later feeding monkey with no prompt

later feeding monkey with no prompt

Roles – Up until two, a child may only use actions seen previously.  By two, they may start imitating peers.  By two-and-a-half, a child may start to imitate someone else (usually a parent!).  Short role-playing may occur from three years of age up until four years of age, where a child may take on several roles during the play.  By five, a child will take on one role and stick with it.

and back to using objects functionally!

and back to using objects functionally!

Doll/teddy play – As above, around 18 months, a child will start to do simple play actions with a doll or teddy if given the chance, such as feeding them or putting them to sleep.  By two years, a child’s brain has developed enough to let the doll/teddy do things for itself, such as placing a cup next to the doll.  At three years, a child will be more interested in a doll’s house and by three-and-a-half, a child will will give the doll/teddy characteristics, such as ‘dolly is sad’.  By four, the doll will have it’s own characteristics and life.

As you can see there are several points a parent can take out of learning about the aspects of pretend play, a child’s occupation :

  • provide materials appropriate for your child’s play skills
  • even if you have a son, give them the opportunity to play with a doll or a teddy and a doll’s house.  You can obviously also use animal or people figurines.
  • give your child TIME to play.  They will most likely need to be at home for a period of time for them to get into it, and with some materials and encouragement. (Master 18 months in the photos wouldn’t have had the opportunity to play if I had packed the bowls away instead of providing spoons and modelling a few actions).
  • up until three years of age, a child will be getting a lot of play ideas from YOUR model, so get down and play!
  • if your child is only using one play action, then show them a logical second action.  If they are doing two actions, for example putting the farmer in the tractor, then driving it, model him driving home or off to the shops.
  • don’t forget about abstract materials that can be used for object substitution.  Look around your house one day to find some items – eg. odd blocks, felt, shells, tissue, old washer, pipe cleaners… Think about Kara’s ‘Heuristic Play’ post…
  • always be talking to your child about new experiences, especially at the time (for example, while you are at the doctor or at the cash register at the supermarket) and then pretend again soon after, at home.

Happy playing! 🙂 I raise my kids is on facebook too.

Language means play

[12 months to school age]  Did you know pretend play is directly linked to your child’s language development?

Let’s look at how, when and why pretend play develops.  Whilst there are many types of play, pretend play is concerned with using imaginative-type toys (such as dolls, teddies, trucks and farm animals) and also using objects as something else (for example a block for a phone or car, a stick for a sword or a hand action for a screwdriver).  Once a child has learnt enough words and concepts, they will start to yearn to play, to practice what they have seen in the real world.  Pretend play is SO important in a child’s development, it has sometimes been referred to as a ‘child’s occupation‘.

Master 15 months testing the drink on himself

Master 15 months testing the drink on himself

How does language development contribute to pretend play skills?

Any time from 12 months old, your child starts to take in a lot more of the world around them.  This newly found attention to objects, people and what they are doing helps your child to understand more and more words every day.  Around 12 months, they will practice the actions they have seen (for example, attempting to brush their hair, putting a phone to their ear or having a drink from a dry cup) to make sense of their world.  This making sense of their world can only go so far using real objects on themselves, before it turns into pretend play, using pretend objects on other toys.  This is when the child no longer uses the brush on their own hair, but turns to dolly or teddy and brushes their hair.  This is quite a significant milestone in that your child is starting to move away from only seeing the world from their own perspective!

In order to develop more and more play skills, a child’s brain needs to start becoming more and more interested in language.  What does ‘sleep’ mean?  How is that different to ‘tired’?  In what context do you use ‘wake up’ alongside ‘sleep’?  Initially, your child will begin to understand ‘sleep’ means ‘cot’ but may later start to act out teddy going to ‘sleep’ because he is ‘tired’.  And later sequence another step by ‘waking’ them up.

Another play action might be to give dolly a ‘bath’.  Initially, to a young child, ‘bath’ may simply mean ‘wash’.  But once they have taken in more of what ‘bath’ entails, they might start to ‘wash’ dolly and then ‘dry’ dolly with a towel.

Just as your child will start to put two words together once they have so many words, your child will start to sequence more than one ‘play action’, once they have so many play actions, such as those listed above.  This might be putting teddy in the bath, drying off with a towel and then to bed or creating a story about a pirate with many, many play actions. Sequencing more and more play actions together creates longer and more complex play scenes, as though your child is creating stories in their mind.  This is how language development is reflected in a child’s pretend play.  And so much so that once a child gets towards school age, they will have the ability to stick with the same play theme and story they have been creating for days on end…if given the chance.

As it should be pretty self-explanatory by now, TV and other branded toys, which have become more and more accepted in today’s society, do not allow for such imaginative play.  Let’s say your child has been watching Dora and is given a Dora doll, or Toy Story and is given a Buzz Lightyear ‘doll’.  Instead of the doll being a blank canvas to do anything they like with, your child will be more likely to perform actions they have seen on the TV and thus their brain is in no way challenged.  The more children rely on TV scripts for their play scenes, the more they have no idea what to do with an ‘unbranded’ toy.  This results in a lot of lost skills, as you will see in the benefits of pretend play below.

When should I promote pretend play?

Once your child starts to copy everyday actions such as mowing, putting on lipstick or answering the phone, this is when you can introduce early play.  Provide your little one with a few everyday items (a phone, cup, towel) and some ‘characters’ (doll, teddy, little people, toy/stuffed animals) and make suggestions, in very few words.  For example, ‘teddy drink?’, ‘phone for dolly’, ‘kangaroo sleep….wake up!’.

give' Jay Browne' a drink!

give’ Jay Browne’ a drink!

What are the benefits of encouraging and making time for my child to play imaginatively?

  • It helps your child to learn about feelings and express these when they do not have the words.  This may be in acting out ‘bye bye’ and hiding behind a curtain before reappearing.  How many times have they watched you say ‘bye’ to them?  It may also be a child acting out bullying with their figurines, even if it was only something they saw happen to another child at daycare.  You can really learn a lot by watching how your child plays and what they are acting out.  Play provides a safe place for your child to express themself.
  • It develops problem solving and sequential thinking.  The more sequences your child makes when playing, the more their brain is sequencing a ‘story’ and eventually with problems that need to be solved.
  • It promotes more language development just by your child having to use concepts, words and phrases they have heard in their day and consolidate the meaning of these.
  • It develops social skills and empathy.  The more your child takes on roles and needs other children to play alongside, the more your child has to get along with others and see things from their viewpoint.  The milestone that is still developing!

Stay tuned to learn about how play themes develop as your child gets older, where doll/teddy play moves to and how object substitution progresses.

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