Imaginary Play

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By Laurie

“I made you dinner!”

In reviewing my week in photos and notes, I’m really struck by how we are seeing the developmental stages of this year’s range of toddlers (1’s-3’s) work together as the Just-Turned-3’s really shine in their mentorship, while at the same time are totally swept away in the fast, exciting world of imaginative play and want to branch away on their own a bit. There are some deeply held rituals among all the children: getting dressed and undressed in the cubby room, diapering the toy babies, room transitions, and Big Feelings- all of which you can now see the bonds between them, regardless of the diverse abilities in the 1’s, 2’s and 3’s. They help each other outside. They ask why someone is crying or check in (often, at least). They assist with boots, hats, and cleaning up. The rhythmic play and repeated daily rituals are getting slowly counterbalanced by big engagement in imaginary play which has taken over much of the conversation, planning, and social scene at Elm House. Bored with simply making birthday cakes in the sandbox or sensory exploration of the environment, there is some interesting plot invention going on with the oldest children.

Let’s take a look at the way some of our repeated daily rituals are being worked out in small groups, now. During our toileting transition last week, I got to watch these relationships despite difference in abilities unfold. MS (2 yrs.) was waiting with a baby doll. Normally I put toys away in the bathroom, but when we came in the room she told me her baby pooped, so I handed her a wipe to see what her next steps with the doll would be. She carefully laid the doll down on the changing table and wiped the baby’s bottom, all the while (in a very RIE approach mind you) narrating to the baby what she was doing.

MC (1 yr.) wanted to get involved, and came in to check on MS. She also climbed up on the table, and asked MS “My do it?”. “No!” said MS, “It’s my turn.”. MC handled this with grace, and sat down to watch. She couldn’t help, however, giving MS her own play by play of suggestions while she waited for a turn. When she began upending the entire box of wipes (helping, I’m sure) we found a different spot for MC to watch and chime in.

CG also had a helpful hint or two for MS’s diaper change. When she asked for a turn (she’ll be 3 next month), MS consented to her assistance. I was pretty impressed at this point in not only how much communication was happening between these three children, but the ways they were all using their particular skills to work together and share space. CG asked for a diaper, which I provided, and she walked MS and the baby doll through careful diapering while the two of them figured out how to secure the tabs.

There is a lot of patience and allowance among the group right now for these rituals that they’ve been practicing together through the year. On the other hand, I observe the oldest children in our group cycle through a dizzying range, hour by hour, of preferred imaginary games, personas, and themes.

They’re stretching themselves and testing the environment in a powerful new way. Friendships and social orders are getting disrupted and reformed among them, too, as they struggle with including more and more children into their imaginative process, what the rules are there, and how to manage feelings <inside> of play. Don’t be surprised if your child is expressing more feelings about coming to school, tiredness, or even fears: there is big social learning happening! (Of course, we are here for your questions about it, as well!) It is such a wonder to witness these play schemes evolve, while at the same time, relying on the routines we have established that include all our ages and abilities, all the personalities, is vital in holding the balance of our day.

“I’m making food”


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