Toddlers Role-Playing

My toddler Max is about 18 months old which means he is developing at an insane rate! At the end of July he was putting together 2 (sometimes 3) words and now…1 month later, he is talking in sentences and grasping concepts that baffled him only weeks ago.  Yesterday he walked up to a picture frame and started saying “I see Grandpa, I see Nan, I see Dada, I see Mama…”  Often times he puts sayings together with other sayings to make a sentence like “Up we go to upstairs for night-night?”  Yes Max, I will pick you up and carry you to bed.

One of the coolest things he has started doing is role-playing.  Up till about 2 weeks ago he only played with physical things like cars, basketballs, and toys.  Now he is doing something that is amazing…he is using his imagination! Max loves it when I play the piano and he sits next to me and watches for a while…then pounds the keys with his tiny hands in imitation.  He loves counting (he can count to 29!) so I started numbering the keys for him with C = 1 and G = 5.  1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1.  He is practicing and starting to figure it out.  I’m going to teach him to play Mary Had A Little Lamb over the next few months.

3, 2, 1, 2, 3, 3, 3, 2, 2, 2, 3, 5, 5…

3, 2, 1, 2, 3, 3, 3, 3, 2, 2, 3, 2, 1.

A few nights ago he started thrashing at the table and pounding his hands into his dinner!  I thought he was throwing a fit and was about to scold him when Kate stopped me and pointed out the look on his face…he was seriously excited.  Kate asked, “Max, what are you doing?”  He earnestly replied, “Play…piano.”  He was pretending to play the piano!  Apparently he likes to sit on our footstools and pretend the antique chest is the piano, and he pounds away on those imaginary keys writing symphonies in his amazingly real brain.

This weekend, the role-playing really came out when he started using his life-sized (for him) Mickey Mouse to act out activities where he was the adult and Mickey was the child.  He tucked Mickey in for night-night, pretended to change a diaper, shared his snacks, and scolded him (“no, no, no!”) for something Mickey had done that was wrong…presumably hitting or throwing a ball indoors.  This all took place on a cushion Max laid out for Mickey as his bed…and he attended to Mickey’s needs for well over an hour.

Changing Mickey’s Diaper

This is a HUGE developmental stage for a toddler!  He is acting out scenarios he has experienced with us, his parents, showing a comprehension for the roles we play as adults to him the toddler.  Every kid does it…its just exciting to watch!  Its like when little girls pretend to cook for their dolls.  The most important thing to me is that these things show me Max is using his imagination – which was one of the most important things in my house when I was growing up.  My mother started a group called the “Tales For Tots Players,” before I was born that performed well into my youth.  They acted out classic tales like Peter Rabbit, Stone Soup, and City Mouse Country Mouse…but every play had an interactive element designed to get kids and parents involved in the story.  I remember Mom hopping through the vegetable garden hiding behind children who were playing the roles of carrots, celery, and so on.  I remember her sitting on stage in her weekly role as “The Pocket Lady” who always had great book in her enormous book shaped pockets.  They sang, we sang, they danced, we danced, and when it was over…it was really the beginning.  Every child got handouts with interactive ways to keep the story going…”in your imagination!”  How many sticks in the backyard had been a sword as I charged a castle?  How many trees had I hid behind as I pretended to be Peter Rabbit?  How many times had my mother answered my childhood questions with this sentence: “Hmmm…let’s use our imaginations and see what we can see.”

Tucking Mickey In

I was raised in a house that valued expressing emotion, asking questions, and using our imaginations.  Imagination was crucial.  Imagination is crucial, especially to children.  I guess my mom was kind of like a big kid, instead of switching on the TV for us she would combine her imagination with ours and create new exciting adventures in our own back yard.  She’s still that way with my son and my nephew, always ready to play a game and get us all to use our imaginations.

Seeing Max use his imagination is the best indicator that Kate and I are doing our job as parents right…at least for me.  Its reassurance that we’re raising a happy kid who wants to explore his world and isn’t afraid to try something…heck his favorite thing to say is “try it?”  This fall I’m going to have to sit down with my mom and find some of the old handouts and games from the “Tales For Tots” days and see if we can encourage some more of this fantastic imagination.

Kiss Mickey night-night
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