Encouraging Creativity: Learn How Preschoolers Pretend

by Bridgette R. Odom

Encouraging CreativityBetween the ages of two- and three-years-old, children transition from imitating others to creating their own imaginative play.

Your one-year-old babbles into a toy phone or shoves a broom across the floor, copying your actions.

As your child approaches two, you'll begin to see your clever tot inventing games and situations.

Throughout the third year, your preschooler's imagination explodes and play themes become more complex.

Whether in a room surrounded by action figures or out in the backyard with two sticks and a pile of rocks, a preschooler's imagination creates its own magic. Characters dance and sing. The sticks become a cell phone, an airplane or a fishing pole. There is no end to their creativity and innovation!

Different Ways to Pretend

Children tend to prefer one way of pretending over another. Some two-year-olds adapt a role and act out imaginary experiences. Other kids would rather create imaginary landscapes and animate and direct objects.

The Actor Assumes a Role

"I am the mommy and you are the baby," Colin says to his father. "Sit here. I bring you juice. You like juice?"

"No," says his father. "I want an apple."

"Okay, I get you apple." He walks into the hall, holds out his empty hand and says, "Here apple."

"That's green. I want a red apple."

Colin heads back to his storehouse in the hall. "Here a red apple, Daddy."

Both little boys and girls take care of dolls, cook food, fix things and head off to work. Other favorite scenarios include imitating a doctor, waitress, store clerk and teacher.

Some actor-type kids take a different approach. They act out unusual events or experiences like a trip to the beach, a visit to the circus or a boat ride. Getting ready seems to be their favorite part. The child might do nothing more than pack a bag and then skip to another theme.

Your Child as Producer/Director

Hannah looks over the toy barn and farm animals. She puts the farmer in a wagon and pulls it around a circle. ''You want water, horse?" the farmer says. "Yes," says the horse. "Gulp, gulp, gulp."

Hannah pulls the wagon around the farm, providing the dialogue and voices for the farmer and the animals.

The producer-director doesn't need complex props. Blocks, crayons, a ball of clay or just words work. The child sets the rules in imaginative play and things become whatever they want them to become.

Fostering Pretend Play

For small children, an adult or older child who enjoys playing along increases the fun factor. Just like kids, parents have a preferred style of imaginative play.

Your Preferred Style

What kind of playmate are you? Do you prefer encouraging creativity in a direct way? Are you the one who suggests the car might be getting low on gas? Do you act out airing up a tire? You're probably skilled in actor-type play and tend to make comments or suggestions that initiate an play sequence.

Do you prefer to gather props, suggest dialogue and draw pictures? Do you tell stories and make up rhymes and songs? You're probably a producer-director type and quickly anticipate which props your child will need.

A third group of parents encourage creativity. They make up the audience who loves to watch their child's imaginative activities. They don't participate all the time, but their enthusiasm cheers the child on.

Gathering Props for Play

Even if you're not a participant, you play a key role helping to find the appropriate props. Putting together the necessary tools for imaginative play benefits you two ways.

First, you can gear the props to your child's preferred play style. Second, you avoid losing pot lids, keys and phones that a two-year-old gathered and left in a private, special place.

These types of props encourage actor play:
• Hats, belts, bracelets, old watches
• Old clothes, shirts, capes and raincoats
• Slippers and boots
• Blankets and sheets
• Boxes of all sizes
• Purses, wallets, lunch boxes, shopping bags and packs
• Toy phones and keys
• Notebook and pencil
• Dolls, stuffed animals and puppets
• Kid-sized pots and pans
• Old photos
• A special play space

These props encourage producer-director play:
• Playhouses, farms and playscapes
• Doll houses, toy villages and miniature railroads
• Small cars, trucks and planes
• Miniature characters and dolls
• Boxes of all sizes
• Sample squares of tile, linoleum and carpet
• Paper, crayons and markers
• Flannel board or color form sets
• A special play space

Real World Experience

Getting out in the real world and doing things provides the final key to unlocking a child's creativity. Going to the grocery store, stopping at the library and playing at the park provide the real world examples your child incorporates into pretend play.

With time and your support, your child can extend the boundaries of time and space, experience new powers and explore that inner creativity.

What's you and your child's favorite activity? How have they surprised you?