Since I made the decision to homeschool my boys, I have been gravitating to articles and other advice regarding education. Recently I followed a trail of information from a radio show to the Internet, and I landed at the “Tools of the Mind” website. (http://www.mscd.edu/extendedcampus/toolsofthemind/) Tools of the Mind is a teacher training program for Pre-K and kindergarten, and though I am not advocating this curriculum because I don’t know enough about it, I did enjoy reading their page for parents.
On this site they talk about how children play differently today than they did when I was a child and that children play “make-believe” less often. Ah-ha, I thought! I did that when I was a kid, and though this may be a no-brainer for many of you seasoned parents out there, I had forgotten all about it.
Make-believe is an important learning tool that teaches children “self-regulation.” You might want to visit the website to get a complete definition of self-regulation, but basically we all need this to learn new things, to control our emotions, and to delay our gratification when necessary. Simply put, we need these skills to go to school and live in society. The site says that there has been current research to show that self-regulation “has a stronger association with academic achievement than IQ or entry-level reading or math skills.”
I am not an expert, but I can see where playing make-believe would be good for kids. Baby animals in the wild use rough and tumble play as practice for when they grow up and have to hunt and defend themselves. As silly as it sounds, children need to “practice” playing like adults (though hopefully the tamer variety). Following the rules of make-believe will help their little minds achieve valuable social skills.
For a mama who has been stuck inside a house on these rainy, cold days with a three-year-old and baby, it puts one more activity up my sleeve. We have been painting, reading books, playing on the computer, cooking, and playing with toys until I’m about to drop. And it seems like most of our play dates have been cancelled due to illness. So I was happy to be reminded about “playing make-believe.”
Ideally children should play make-believe with other children, but at three years old, I know my son needs a bit of an introduction to it. He is imaginative, but telling me that his dinosaur needs to eat my plants because it’s a “herbivore” is not my idea of constructive play.
So the other day I told him we would act out one of his favorite books, the classic Goodnight Gorilla by Peggy Rathmann. I was the zookeeper, and he was the gorilla. His baby brother was our audience. As I (the zookeeper) left the “zoo,” I dropped my key (a teething ring), and my son picked it up and crawled on all fours behind me. He followed me into bed where I said, “Goodnight,” and my three-year-old happily improvised a loud roar. We laughed and laughed.
That night I asked him what his favorite part of the day was, and he told me it was playing make-believe. So we’ll make this a regular part of our routine. Self-regulation or not, it has certainly proved to be just as much fun as it was when I was a kid.
Shelli Bond Pabis is a columnist for the Barrow Journal. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.