Many valuable aspects of pretend play
Peter Gray often discusses valuable aspects of play itself, such as the value in building mental rules which are self-chosen and self-directed. An important aspect of this type of high quality (excellent developmental results) play is that players are free to quit at any time. This means that players must keep each other happy and negotiate rules constantly in order to keep their companions playing with them. He also cites that play is always structured by kids themselves rather than by adults, noting that children may learn a lot more about themselves and their peers in a game of pick up basketball than in a game that is run and regulated by adults.
Pretend play can take many forms. Sometimes it takes the form of using figurines to represent oneself, such as moving and voicing stuffed animals or dolls to act out scenarios. Sometimes it’s cars and racing to see who can go the fastest, and dealing with the emotions of those who don’t win, whether that means regulating your own emotions or consoling a friend who lost the race. It can even be building a Lego town and determining what’s necessary: police officer, construction worker, and...Batman? Just kidding, that’s only in the Lego movie.
Other times, pretend play takes the form of role-taking. For example, Ziva and Evelyn often play “babies” at school, where one of them pretends to be a baby and the other pretends to be the caretaker. Where is the value in this? Well, Ziva has a baby sister at home and enjoys mimicking the caretaking responsibilities that she has observed, as well as experiencing times to pretend she is the baby and working through emotions from that perspective. Zaden and Torsten enjoy pretending to be the “bad guys” in any given show or movie, such as Joker from Batman or Darth Vader from Star Wars. This play allows them to have a healthy outlet for their admiration of these villains who are admittedly very cool and interesting, while still allowing them to step back into their own shoes and be a nice kid and a good friend.
One of my very favorite examples of pretend play took place recently at Makarios Community School.
Avery, who is eight, was leading some of the younger kids in a game of “Fake JC.” They asked me to join and I was honestly shocked at how perfectly they were modeling the system of Judicial Committee. They had three committee members, chairs for the plaintiff and defendant on the same sides of the room JC uses, one of the committee members taking notes, and they called those who had been written up to sit and wait in the common room to be called in. They were making up random problems, like breaking a window, roughhousing on the quiet side, and more, and then coming up with realistic solutions and consequences for those problems. The youngest kids who sometimes don’t understand what’s happening in real JC understood everything perfectly. It was clear to see some of the ways these kids were learning from their game of “Fake JC:” understanding the logistics of where to sit and when to speak in JC, knowing what is going on the whole time, and how to collaborate for real solutions to problems in the community. The game could have even eased the nerves that kids sometimes feel when being called into JC. It’s impossible to know all of the benefits this pretend play was responsible for, but it’s clear to see that they were numerous.