By: Stephanie Duhon
This morning my nearly 2-year-old daughter, Nicole, made my heart melt. She came up to me with a couple of teacups and said “Mommy, play.” Until recently, she mostly preferred to play alone, unless she had a friend over or she wanted me to read a book to her or help her with something. But lately, she wants me to join her in whatever activity she is doing, such as coloring, dancing to her favorite Prelude Music CD or building a tower with her blocks. When she approached me with the teacups, I helped her set up her tea set, just like one of her favorite book characters, Fancy Nancy. We sat down, she in her favorite purple tutu, and had a tea party with Baby Tiger and Buzz Lightyear.
Nicole loved the tea party! She poured “tea” in the cups and gave it to Baby Tiger and Buzz Lightyear to enjoy. She drank from her teacup to show them how to drink their tea! Like most toddlers, Nicole has a short attention span and quickly tired of the game. But those few moments sitting down having that tea party with Nicole reminded me of just how precious these toddler years really are. Everyone always tells you how quickly the childhood years pass by, but you don’t really understand that concept until you experience it. I love watching her learn and grow and do my best to foster and encourage that growth.
Toddlers love to pretend, especially by imitating those around them! And they are watching every move we make! I remember, one afternoon, Nicole and I were outside when she put a toy up to her ear. I couldn’t figure out what she was doing … until I heard her talking! She was on the phone, just like Mommy! A few weeks ago, my husband was sweeping the kitchen floor when she wanted to sweep too! So he passed her the broom and she “swept” around the kitchen for a good 20 minutes! We found a cute broom and dustpan set for her and now she helps me sweep the floor after we eat.
Pretend play is not just fun for toddlers; it’s also an important developmental milestone. Pretend play not only encourages imagination, but also teaches empathy, language skills and problem solving. It can also help a child overcome something they fear. For example, we don’t have a dog and Nicole gets scared when she sees one. But, by playing with her stuffed dog animals, she is learning that dogs can be our friends and is slowly becoming braver when we visit a friend who has a dog.
As Nicole’s parents, my husband and I have the most influence in her life. She is paying close attention to our actions and learning by what we do. A lot of that learning comes out in pretend play. There are many ways to encourage pretend play, such as bringing out dress up clothes, having a tea party, putting dolls down for a nap, creating a village with blocks or putting together a race track for cars. Most importantly … have fun with your child!