I came across this article when looking for a suitable reference in my last post, and I thought it deserved its own summary for all the information it contains. Educators and parents are constantly seeking concrete descriptions and recommendations for how to help their students and children develop, and this article is helpfully specific in describing the characteristics of mature imaginative play and techniques for supporting it. Below I summarize the main points in each category.
Characteristics of mature play (what to look for and encourage):
- Imaginary situations
- Assigning new meanings to people and objects
- Focusing on abstract rather than concrete properties
- Inventing new uses for familiar objects
- Describing missing props with words and gestures
- Multiple roles
- Assuming multiple roles, including supporting characters
- Practicing the actions and emotions of the role rather than their own
- Clearly defined rules
- Delaying immediate fulfillment of their desires (and thereby developing better self-regulation)
- Flexible themes
- Incorporating new roles and ideas from other themes
- Negotiating plans across themes
- Language development
- Us[ing] language to plan the play scenario, negotiate and act out roles, explain “pretend” behaviors to others, regulate rule compliance
- Modifying speech intonation and register, vocabulary to code-switch between real and pretend speech
- Length of play
- Staying with same play theme across multiple sessions over days
- Creating, reviewing, revising plans
- Elaborating on imaginary situation, integrating new roles, discovering new uses for props
How to support imaginative play
- Intervene sometimes:
- Beware of intervening so much that the play loses its spontaneous, child-initiated character and changes into another adult-directed activity.
- Do intervene when children’s play remains stereotypical and unexciting day after day to help kids expand the scope of their play.
- Create imaginary situations:
- Provide multipurpose props that can stand for many objects (which also promotes cognitive flexibility).
- Combine multipurpose props with realistic ones to keep play going and then gradually provide more unstructured materials.
- Show the children different common objects and brainstorm how they can use them in different ways in play.
- Encourage children to use both gestures and words to describe how they are using the object in a pretend way.
- Integrate different play themes and roles:
- Use field trips, literature, and videos to expand children’s repertoire of play themes and roles.
- Point out the ‘people’ part of each new setting—the many different roles that people have and how the roles relate to one another.
- Sustain play:
- Help children plan play in advance by asking them to record their plans by drawing or writing them. This may help stimulate them to create new developments in their play scenario.
(Italicized text represents direct or near-direct quotations; parenthetical comments represent my own added interpretation.)
Bodrova, E.B., & Leong, D.J. (2003). The importance of being playful. Educational Leadership, 60, 50-53.