A child is on the floor, on all fours, looks up at an adult with eager eyes, and barks. Mom responds, “I see that I have a new puppy in the house ! I heard your loud bark. I see your eager eyes. It looks like the puppy wants something.” The child considers what a dog would want, and creates ways to express what the dog would want without using words.
Children LOVE to pretend to be animals. Even children younger than 18 months old are acute observers of the world, and begin to imitate what they see how others… or other ANIMALS… act . WATCH ! and when you see these imitations, let it develop into a learning experience. … HOW?
FIRST, specifically describe what the child is doing, with a focus on “I see you…” This not only encourages the child’s sense of self and confidence in their abilities, but it also helps increase their language skills and vocabulary, by giving them words for what they are doing and feeling.
Then encourage them to expand, lead them to consider what else a puppy would do. “It looks like the puppy wants to play. What shall we do today, puppy?” Again, continue to describe their actions, interpreting for their “animal language”. Play along as the puppy’s owner, asking what the puppy needs to be happy. These are open ended questions that help guides their imagination, and allows them to remain the creative “leader” of this playful activity.
If they need some further encouragement, (some are too young to know the options, some are overwhelmed with the many options) ask simple choice questions, like “Is the puppy begging for a scratch behind the ear, or does he want his belly rubbed?” Or if there is time, “Would the puppy like to go for a walk, or play ball in the back yard?” Then it becomes easy for them to decide, and can become creative again once they get started that direction.
After a bit of open play, it may be wonderful to learn more about that type of animal, through active observation of your own pet (describing what they are doing) or reading a book featuring their favorite animal, or singing a song about that animal that includes the animal doing some of the typical things that animal does.
This will help them expand their knowledge of options for that animal, which will be fun to include during the next play session. Will they bring this new action into the play themselves? Or will you gently add that in through a choice question? During each new play session, WATCH to see what the child will ADD that is NEW for them. It is amazing how quickly they can learn so much about an animal they are interested in.
Through imitating animal movements, children are developing their gross motor skills, which can be incorporated into creative problem solving. Through imitating animal sounds, children give their speech and language skills a work out, improving their articulation and creative sound making abilities. This often leads to increasing their ability to communicate without using words, learning to use facial expressions and gestures to get their point across. It is fun to watch and video tape, and keep around so that you can embarras them in their teenage years… and keep it in your memories for a lifetime.
Pretend Play develops over time through a specific set of steps, and according to the experiences that child has. One of my previous blog postings “A Parents Guide to the Stages of Pretend Play” goes through those stages specifically in a more formal way.
But today is a good day to just get in a few good ideas and enjoy animal play with your young child. My next few blogs will contain some fun SONGS and RESOURCES that are about specific animals, which you can USE in your fun play. PLEASE feel free to ADD your thoughts about books, songs, rhymes, and simple PLAY ideas for our young “animal” friends.
In the Fiddle Dee Dee semester of Kindermusik Our Time, we are fully exploring lots of animals, the ways they move, the sounds, they make, and the things they LIKE and DO. We are in the midst of enjoying rhymes, songs, and stories encouraging interactive animal play. If you’d like to visit a class, check out www.kindermusik.com, to find a class near you.
If you are already part of MY Kindermusik class, or the class of another teacher… TELL ME… which animals would YOU like to see the focus on in future blog postings. My current schedule is to address DOGS, MICE, and PIGS – in that order.
I must end by sharing a story. One of my best friends daughter, and her cousin, were enthralled with squirrels. They pretended to be squirrels regularly throughout an entire YEAR ! With squirrel next “forts” in the living room, short tree climbing, and halloween costumes, they explored every aspect of being a squirrel. They LEARNED so much about squirrels, and developed life skills and passions through their pursuit.
Which animal does YOUR child like to pretend to be?