Dressed as royal princesses, my 5 year old daughter explains, “She has all my best jewelry, and I wanted it so I could be more beautiful.”    This was my her reasoning behind agressively wrestling her costume jewelry out of her friends hands.   I was floored.  She is 5 years old, and knows better than to grab for things.  But, obviously, her moral compass needs a bit of fine tuning. 

I had to remove all the jewelry from the room, take her aside privately and share, “Beauty does not come from what pretty things you might wear.  Beauty shines from you in the way you treat other people.” 

After a few minutes to let her calm down and soak that in, I asked “If your friend is willing to keep playing with you, why don’t we try a “REWIND”.  Please show me how a princess acts beautifully.”  They were willing to “REWIND”, and she and her friend continued their costumed fantasy play, in  a much kinder way.

I strongly encourage imaginative play with my child, and others.  We have a mirrored costume closet full of special yard sale finds and homemade outfits.  I believe it is wonderful to “try out” different roles and characters in order to develop a better sense of their true self.

I also think it is good for me to work nearby and listen to their play, interjecting comments that support cooperative play and help them see how their play relates to real situations, learning how to problem solve when there is a conflict (even if I “set up” a scenario for them to solve). 

They actually  like to practice positive interactions and cooperative play when it is presented as a game.

Sometimes someone gets to pretend to be the “bad guy” (like the big bad wolf), and we get to come up with creative ways to make him go away, or become a friend and teach him how to be nice (like inviting the big bad wolf to play the drums in their marching band).

Other times, I capitalize on their current interests.  One of my daughter’s  favorite scenarios right now is for one child to be a mama horse, and she needs to care for her colt (the other child).   They are learning how real horses act through reading our library books, and the girls are practicing NURTURING.  We even occasionally have a pregnant horse, and the other child is the vet trying to help a difficult birth.  (My daughter loves horses and babies, and her friend’s cat just had kittens, so it is all relevant to their interests, as well as to life.)

In our Kindermusik Imagine That ! classes, every day is imaginary day, based on real life themes – like this semester is on city life.  The students are inspired to be different vendors in a park, or business owners in the local businesses.  This week, they are architects, and their homework assignment is to design and create a “child size” building for our city walk this coming week.  And they learn story telling skills to discuss what they made, how they made it, and even talk about what might happen once someone walks into their building.    Parents are encouraged to allow the student as much freedom as possible in the design and development, but are there to help an “idea” become a reality, and to expand on the learning through asking a lot of questions that get a child thinking and talking.

The learning that a child can gain from imaginative play happens BEST when an parent LISTENS to the dialogue, expands occasionally on the content, and carefully plants seeds to develop strong moral character. 

In many ways, children are hard wired to learn many things – to walk, to talk, to read, to count – even to get potty trained.  BUT, children must learn positive social skills and moral character through watching good examples and practicing these skills in inventive and creative ways. 

An EXCELLENT book on this subject is “Einstein Never Used Flashcards” by Kathy Hirsh-Pasek, PhD.   It is subtitled,  “How Our Children REALLY Learn – and Why They Need to Play More and Memorize Less”.   It is a fascinating book.  I have read it several times and my copy is marked thoroughly with things I want to remember. 

I would love to chat with other parents about some of the things I have read in this parenting book, as well as others, like Becky Bailey’s “Easy to Love, Difficult to Discipline”.   Send an email to musiconnx@att.net, and I’ll send you a link to my Facebook Page where you can become a FAN, and we can have a rollicking discussion on what the experts say (and how conflicting they are), and what really works!