By Christina VanGinkel
Children love pretending. My young grandson can spend hours pretending he is a dinosaur, never once coming out of play mode of his growls and roars (except to ask for something to eat, or make a statement about something he just remembered he needed to tell Nana i.e. me). He actually has quite a vivid imagination, when I compare it to his own mother or his Uncles at the same age. They were all imaginative in their own sort of way, just not to the degree he is. He can carry on a conversation with no one, and did just that in the back seat of the car the other day. When his father asked him whom it was that he was talking too, he replied simply that he was talking to his finger. When asked if it was talking back, he gave his dad a look of consternation and replied that of course it was talking back!
Why some children have such vivid imaginations and others do not, I have never figured out, but what I do know is that if you provide a child with toys that feed that imagination, most of them are likely to run with it and have a blast of fun pretending whatever it is that the toys help them pretend. As my grandson demonstrates, no toys are required to feed the imagination constantly, but even with him, it is easy to see how much fun he does have when different toys are present to help fuel his imagination.
Dress-up items are some of the most fun items you can provide for children that love to play pretend. I know before I had my grandson around so much, if I would have been asked what I thought I would find in a box of dress up clothes, I would have replied quite quickly with answers to the tune of feather boas, high heel shoes, tutus, and such. Now, when I think of a box of dress up clothes, I think of cowboy hats, fishing caps, and anything green and shiny to play the part of a dead dragon, dinosaur, or crocodile (wholly dependant on what he is pretending to be slaying on any given day!). I guess what I am trying to say, is that consider the child or children who will be playing with the contents of such a box when choosing things to place in it.
Playhouses and forts are also fun for kids that love to play pretend. These could be as fancy as a custom-built miniature sized house, like the one a friend's father just made for her four-year-old daughter, complete with electricity, to plug in a boom box for music and a fan on hot summer days. On the other hand, it could be as simple as a large blanket stretched over two chairs (we use the end of our loveseat and my husband's chair) to create a cave. Add a flashlight to this tossed together creation, and my grandson will happily hunt for dragons for long stretches of time. This coupled with the underside of a table at the end of our hallway, and he has a whole world of dinosaurs and dragons.
When I was mentioning how well he keeps himself occupied playing like this, a friend noted that her young grandchildren never play like this that they are parked in front of the television and will sit there for hours. I was quick to point out that maybe it is not the television that is at fault, as my grandson loves his cartoons as much as the next kid, but maybe they just need a little bit of inspiration. If nobody drags out the blankets, and helps them build that first fort (or cave) then they may not realize just how fun it can be to pretend. If a small child is given a doll but not shown how to rock and cradle it, he or she may play with it to a point, but may not reap the total value out of the experience that another child might who had somebody else sit down with them and demonstrate some things they might do. Oftentimes, if kids are in a daycare or other group setting, they will 'learn' much of this from other kids, but otherwise, an adult who takes the time to get down and actually play with them in such a manner, is going to be a tremendous plus to their imagination level. I have heard that pretend play is healthy for young children. I do not know how true that is, but I can tell you that they sure seem to have a lot of fun with it. Well, I have to go; my grandson needs help slaying a big dragon that just flew by!