Guest Post: Modeling Pretend Play at Storytime

At our November Library Services for Children Journal Club meeting we discussed executive function.  One of the ways we can help children develop executive function skills is through pretend play.  Stephanie M. Carlson is a professor and director of research at the Institute of Child Development, University of Minnesota. She wrote an article about why pretend play helps executive function and states, “We think it’s because pretending puts “psychological distance” between a child and the task at hand. Pretending helps a child step back from a problem and think about it from multiple angles. It helps him see different options for finding a solution. Pretending also uses the same brain networks as real behavior. So if a child practices using pretend play, it’s more likely he’ll use those same brain networks in real situations. It’s similar to the advice “fake it till you make it.”

Today’s post is a guest post by my friend and colleague Kate Lowe. Kate Lowe works as a children’s librarian in Vancouver, BC.  She enjoys testing out new storytime material on her 4 year old son. She is also living proof that anyone can learn to play the ukulele.  She’s here to share 9 ways we can encourage pretend play in storytime.  We’re taking the research and putting it into practice!

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Research shows that there are a million and one great reasons to encourage children to engage in pretend play. So how can we encourage the parents, caregivers, babies, toddlers and preschoolers at our library to play “make-believe”? By showing them how it is done and reminding caregivers to try this at home.

1.  Lay an Egg

If you’ve got egg shakers at your library you have everything you need to demonstrate imaginary play. Well, an egg shaker and a willingness to make a fool of yourself in front of a room full of storytime families.

  • Step 1: Take an egg shaker
  • Step 2: Sit on it
  • Step 3: Squawk and flap like a chicken
  • Step 4: Lay the egg
  • Step 5: Cradle it in your hands and treat it like a delicate baby. Proudly show the egg to the audience.
  • Step 6: Ask if they are ready to play with shakers too

2.  Row, Row, Row Your Ukulele

Pretend your trusty uke is an oar to help you paddle down the stream. Try putting the instrument down and all of you can paddle together. It’s a nice variation on the traditional rowing actions. You can even change the words to “Paddle, paddle, paddle your canoe gently down the stream…”

3. Felt Piece Meet and Greet

Before starting a felt story take two of the felt pieces and bring them to life with sounds and movement in the air. You only need a few moments of clip clopping the horse along the top of your felt board, or having a cat chase the mouse up your arm to give your audience the idea.

4. The Original Hand Puppet

Turn your hand into a puppet named Herbert. After a fun storytime activity turn to your hand and have a conversations:

  • You: “Did you like that Herbert?”
  • You (aside to the audience): “This is Herbert.”
  • You: “So did you like the song Herbert?”
  • Herbert (nodding): “Yep I did!”
  • You: Let’s give ourselves a round of applause for that song!
  • Herbert: “Good idea”

Best advice I ever got from a puppeteer was: Look at the puppet when you’re have a conversation with it. Look at the audience when you are talking to them. The audience will follow your attention.

5. Sweep Up

Storytime scarves are the ideal pretend play tool. They are light, colourful, and they provide have endless possibilities for play. Remind caregivers that most homes have a rag, cloth or small blanket that will work for at home. Before you do a song or rhyme, take a scarf and turn it into a duster, or a broom and pretend to sweep. Clean the dust off your chair, your legs, some of the children’s feet…

6. Costume Change

The song “My Hat it Has Four Corners” demonstrates how a scarf can be a hat or a superhero cape.

7. Grow a flower

The rhyme “Here is a Green Leaf” demonstrates how a scarf can be a beautiful flower.

8. Baby Doll

Children have a special skill to turn any object into a baby doll. Take a puppet and start to rock and burp it. Pretend for a moment or two that the puppet is your baby to love and care for. A few scarves stuffed inside another scarf then tied with an elastic makes the head and wispy body of a lovely little doll. After a minute of caring for your baby you can tell the audience you are ready to move on to a song or book. Ask the audience to say goodbye to your little friend. If you are finished with the puppet or scarves, carefully place them somewhere safe to keep the illusion going.

9. Book Time

Library staff are always trying to model how to treat a book gently, but you can take it one step further and pretend the book is a baby, a piece of glass, or precious friend. We can talk to the book, hug the book, and cradle the book. Especially if it is a favourite book that you decide to bring out a number of times during a series of storytimes. The book can become a familiar friend and treated with special care. You could make the book a special sleeping bag, a coat, or give it a special box to sleep in. There are endless possibilities.

What storytime objects have sparked your imagination in storytime?  Let us know in the comments!

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