Polly and I had about ten minutes left in our session today. She had worked so hard, keeping her brain focused, keeping the sillies in her thought bubble, and staying positive, that I gave her the choice of what she’d like to do.
“The animals!” she exclaimed, pointing up.
Do any of you remember those “Critter Counters” that Lakeshore Learning used to sell? It’s a container of rubber farm animals. There are two big and two small of each kind of animal, in each color, and my kids are in love with them.
I got out the animals and we dumped them out, and she got right to work.
“Okay,” she declared. “Come on guys, we need to get in our lines.” She narrated as she went along, and I happily listened, knowing that the presence of pretend play is anything but insignificant. So many of my kids never engaged in pretend play during “typical” developmental time – they just weren’t there yet. So it doesn’t matter how old they are now – if now’s the time, now’s the time. Let’s play.
“Where should I go?” she had a piggy ask. “Over here! Come on, you can go right behind me,” said the Mama pig.
She lined them all up in their respective groups, making sure that each line had a “Team Leader” (a grown-up animal) in the front. Animals frequently seemed to not know where to go, and other animals were very helpful in telling them which line was theirs.
The animals encountered a few problems as they lined up. “Did you just push me?!” Polly made a duck ask. “No!” the sheep replied. “I think you did,” the duck retorted. “I think you bullied me.” Then Polly looked up at me.
“Who could help?” I asked. She brought over a grown-up animal, who said, “I think it was an accident. It wasn’t bullying.”
The animals are talking to each other. They are problem-solving. This is not insignificant. This is Polly learning, and processing, and applying.
After a few more minutes of various line groupings, and discussions among the animals, I regretfully told her, Polly, we’ll need to clean up in one minute. It’s almost time for lunch.”
At first she had the animals hop or gallop back into their container. But then, she seemed to make a decision, sighed, and grabbed handfuls of them, throwing them back in.
“They’re back to normal,” Polly told me.
“What do you mean by that?” I asked, curious.
“They’re just toys now. They’re not alive anymore.” She said sadly.
I was fascinated. Speechless.
Not only did Polly, a 10 and a half-year old, engage in some seriously awesome pretend play, not only did she use language and perspective-taking to have the animals talk, not only did she demonstrate an understanding of problem-solving, BUT she demonstrated an understanding of what pretend play is. Polly knew that toys can be two things – real in her head sometimes, but also, ultimately, just toys.
I think tomorrow, we’ll play some more.