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pretend play

Pretend play guide – Bath time

Before I get going with the next dose of imaginary silliness, I present the rainbow of play – seven simple rules that will make imaginary play mean more for your child:

  1. Pick a quiet time when you are unlikely to be distracted.
  2. Put away your phone, and turn off the TV and music to help you both pay attention.
  3. Lots of short play sessions are better than one long one.
  4. Watch and enjoy. Relax! Smile! Give him praise for his ideas.
  5. Copy and join in with the things he does. Try not to take over.
  6. Talk about what is happening, using very short sentences.
  7. Only ask questions if you really don’t know the answers.

It seems so very rude to make all these orders. I apologise. Well then. On with the show!

Collect: soft toys, a bath (e.g. a dry washing up bowl, or a cardboard box with taps drawn on), sponge or flannel, soap, a small towel, brush, toothbrush

  • Tell the toys that it’s bath time. They might be very dirty.
  • Run the bath using pretend taps. Check the water isn’t too hot.
  • Toys could get undressed before they go in – take off pretend clothes if they don’t have any clothes on.
  • Wash one bit of the toys at a time. Try to do this by making a suggestion (e.g. ‘his nose looks dirty’, ‘he’s still got dirty feet!’, ‘we forgot to wash her hair!’).
  • Naughty toys will probably stand up and stamp their feet or slosh the water around.
  • When they get out, the toys might shiver and complain.
  • Dry the toys and tell them if they’ve been good or if they have been naughty.
  • The toys will need to brush their teeth if they’re going to bed.
  • Help them get dressed with their real or pretend clothes.

 Model language: ‘is it too hot?’, ‘where’s the soap?’, ‘teddy’s very dirty’, ‘don’t do that’, ‘there’s water everywhere now’, ‘did you like your bath?’

Pretend play guide – Teddy’s picnic

The way we approach play with children makes a huge difference as to whether they want to get involved or not. Get it right, and you can enrich the child’s world with language and meaning. Get it wrong (e.g. by constantly asking pointless questions) and the child will prefer to play alone. We can really do something to improve our play and interaction styles as well. Here are some pointers that relate to imaginative play in general, before I get into describing the picnic set up:

  • Talk to the toys. Ask the toys what they want to do. If the child doesn’t seem too comfortable getting involved, do not look at her – look at the toys. You are modelling imaginative play for her, and to do this, you need to relate to the toys.
  • Don’t take over. Provide plenty of time and space for the child to come up with her own ideas. Copy and repeat her ideas. Add a commentary, and gently dramatise the goings-on. Add meaning, and gently develop her ideas. Show her how much her ideas mean to you.
  • Don’t ask questions if you already know the answer. This is not how communication works.
  • Make the play meaningful for the child. In terms of mealtimes, this might mean that the toys might not want to eat their food, they might get it all over themselves, or spill drinks everywhere. Do not be afraid to repeat sequences over and over again!
  • Sequence ideas together to create a bigger story. For example, if she has mastered feeding a toy some carrot with a spoon, next time give her a knife to cut it up first. Next time give her a shopping bag with carrot in to unpack first. Next time go ‘shopping’ first.
  • Don’t worry if it doesn’t make sense. Fill your teapot up with imaginary water from an imaginary tap. Who cares that the carrots don’t actually get cut up when you use a pretend knife on them? Your child will be bewitched by the way reality need not apply during imaginative play.
  • If you’re not having fun, you’re not doing it right.

Collect: soft toys, plastic plates, toy food, spoon and knife. Use boxes, books, etc to act as tables and chairs for the toys.

  • Put the toy food in a basket or a box so that it can all be seen at once.
  • Food might need to be prepared (e.g. toast can be cut, or have butter spread on it). The toys could need help to eat with a spoon.
  • Toys might really enjoy the food, or they might push it away or even spit it out. How will she respond to a fussy toy?
  • Enjoy making ludicrous combinations of foods. Disgusting food is much more amusing than tasty food.
  • Make the toys say if they want more, or if they have had enough.
  • Toys might steal each other’s food, hide food from one another, drop their food or start to play with their food. Naughty toys need to be told off.
  • The toys will probably need to have their faces cleaned with a cloth.
  • Think about other things we do before and after we eat – shopping, cooking, cleaning, washing up and cleaning our teeth. Pick your moment and try to build the story together.

Model language: ‘who wants some apple?’, ‘do you want butter?’, ‘it needs cutting’, ‘you’re messy now’, ‘stop doing that!’

Pretend play guide – Teddy's tea party

Children learn language by talking about what they see happening in front of them. You can help them by making their play world simple and relatively repetitive, and by describing what they are doing in short, simple sentences. Here is the first in a series of pretend play guides – today’s is teddy’s tea party.

Collect: soft toys (use favourite toys), toy cups, toy teapot, toy milk jug

  • Get the toys to sit somewhere comfortable. Ask the toys if they’re thirsty.
  • See if he will pour drinks and help the toys drink. Is it hot enough? Too hot?
  • Try filling up the teapot with pretend water from a pretend tap.
  • Make a sound when he pours and when he helps the toys drink.
  • Flavour the tea (e.g. with a plastic strawberry to make a fruit tea; something to make it disgusting – like a sock). Will the toys enjoy it?
  • The toys might knock over the cups or the teapot if they’re clumsy. He might clean up if you provide a cloth.
  • Make the toys ask for more, until they say they have had enough.

 Model language: ‘oh what a mess!’, ‘drink it up teddy’, ‘that one’s yours’, ‘teddy’s drinking’, ‘is it nice?’