Thursday, January 14, 2010

The Power of Pretend

I recently was visiting a forum where a homeschooling mother asked what to do with a dd that loved to pretend, but mom did not--hated it, in fact. I read the thread with earnest, as I am in the same boat with Grasshopper, who loves to pretend. And me? I must have missed the announcement when they were handing out imaginations. I was really disturbed, though, when I saw many responses such as, "Play with my kids? No way. Not going to happen." And I was surprised that no one seemed to be able to provide any real, practical advice for this poor mom that was trying to do her best for her kids.

From the beginning, I begrudgingly tried to appease Grasshopper's demands for pretend play. Before she could even talk, she would insist that we pretend the washcloth was talking to her. (I made the mistake one time of trying to get her to cooperate when I was wiping her face.) By the time she was 3yo, she was walking around telling people that she was Pocahontas, or Mary (mother of Jesus), or whatever person she was interested in that day, and I played along as best I could. When I was pregnant with Cricket and uttlerly exhausted, I would suggest that we pretend that she was putting me to bed, and that actually worked.

But what really made a difference for me is when we moved to a location in a library district and started formal homeschooling. Books became her primary motivation for pretend play. And when I saw that she wanted to pretend anything and everything, I quickly learned that pretending to be, for example, the Egyptian Queen Tiye was so much better than pretending to be Disney princesses. And it turns out that Grasshopper is even more excited about pretending to be a real person or act out a real story than a fictional one. We still do plenty of fiction, but we pick those that have real life lessons in them. Allow me to share some examples.
  • We recently read a book about the childhood of Queen Isabel of Spain. Grasshopper pretended to be Queen Isabel of Castile, and I pretended to be King Ferdinand of Aragon asking her to marry him and therefore combine their kingdoms into one big country called Spain. We pretended to give money to Christopher Columbus for his trip to the New World.
  • Grasshopper wanted to learn about Poland, so I got a book from the library entitled Escaping to America, a true story about a family that fled Poland during WWI. While we were running errands, we pretended that we were this family. Every time we had to get in and out of the car, we pretended we were getting on a train or a ship for yet another leg of the journey. Down the aisles of the grocery store, we pretended we were hiding from soldiers. As we approached home, we pretended we were arriving in America and talked about how we would work hard for the blessing of being here. I got all my work done, and Grasshopper was immensely satisfied with her hours of pretend. And best of all for me--she is learning.
  • This week, we read a book called Brave Irene about a little girl that braved a terrible snow storm to deliver a dress her sick mother had made for the duchess's ball. It was a fictional story, but it had wonderful life lessons about perseverance, honesty, honor, responsibility, charity, bravery, etc. I didn't particularly like pretending. But practicing good character is something I want my kids to be doing. These lessons are better learned during pretend play before they are faced with the real thing.

Can you make yourself like pretending? Probably not. But it is so much more tolerable when you envision what your children will get out of it in the long run and guide your child into pretending things of real value.


  1. I think this is one reason children are so good for each other--they enjoy pretending together! I know I liked pretend when I was a child, but it is much, much harder now. My children play delightful pretend games together, and with some of their friends. Unfortunately, a lot of our neighbourhood kids have been raised entirely on TV and really don't know how to pretend, or so it seems...developing the imagination requires not only a source of ideas (books and some videos are fruitful) but also lots of time free of electronic stimulation in which to create and act out.

  2. So true, so true! I, too, severely limit screen time to only an hour a day. And I can't wait until Cricket is old enough to pretend together with Grasshopper. Right now, all he can do is pretend he is a monster in the dark! LOL!


Latter-day Homeschooling