Many philosophers and
educators agree that playing is not only healthy, but necessary for appropriate
development and understanding of the world. Gretchen Owocki said, “As astronauts and space travelers children puzzle over
the future; as dinosaurs and princesses they unearth the past. As weather
reporters and restaurant workers they make sense of reality; as monsters and
gremlins they make sense of the unreal.”
Knowing this, it is important to allow your kids to play through real world
scenarios. These scenarios can be recreations of past experiences, practicing
current situations or preparing for future events. Real-world play, the third
in this series of types of commonly observed play, provides a safe environment
to test fears, construct a different outcome or create safety and confidence
in themselves and their lives.
An example might look
Your child tells you that the people figures
are friends and they are playing at his house. Soon the friends begin to
disobey the rules and argue with each other. He tells them to stop or they are
going to get in trouble. Finally, after they continue to break rules, he puts
them in time out. He enforces the punishment and makes them apologize for not
listening. After serving their time out, they are able to continue playing.
In this scenario, several
things are happening. First, the child is switching roles—normally in the role
of the disciplined, he becomes the discipliner. Assuming a different role helps
the child understand things more clearly and have a broader perspective on
life. Second, the child is playing out experiences he has already witnessed. As
the child has surely broken rules and chosen consequences in the past, this
play allows him to participate in the process in a new way. Finally, closure
and resolution is achieved in the play. While real-life scenarios may not
always have a final fix-it, the child can create an ending that makes sense or
change the ending.
The benefits of this type
of play are that children can safely play out a past, present, or future
scenario over and over again until they are comfortable with their feelings
about it. This can build confidence, coping skills, and resilience. Moreover, a
child in an environment that does not change (home, school, day care) is able
to respond differently to the same circumstances after processing the scenario
in play. Additionally, the child gains a sense of control over their world when
he can alter it in play and determine the outcome.
I am always amazed at the
children who come into the playroom and almost immediately begin working on
their most pressing issues without prompts from me. The child who gets in
trouble at school plays the scenario until good behavior is achieved. The child
scared of potty training plays the scenario until success is achieved. The
child who misses her dad plays the scenario and creates more family time.
Real-world play is an amazing process for children, and reminds us that solving
problems doesn’t always have to be daunting!