There’s a truck in our classroom. It’s a fire truck. It has four truck tires, a steering wheel, on-off switches for the water pump, hoses and pumps, water valves, an engine, pedals, two seats (and sometimes more), an oxygen mask, a roof, a door, sirens and lights, a fire extinguisher, a water tank, a ladder, and even its very own gas pump.
Ok, I’ll admit that the fire extinguisher is made out of a oatmeal canister covered in red construction paper with a garden spigot duct-taped to the top. In fact, the whole truck is pretty much kept together with duct tape. We used an entire roll of duct tape, and we’re pretty proud of the results.The ladder can actually be climbed on, at least if you weigh 50 pounds or less, which I find perfectly acceptable for something made out of sticks and baling twine. Also, it’s for a truck that will only be putting out imaginary fires (Shh! Don’t tell anyone, but it’s just pretend.)
Though, you could be forgiven for forgetting that our truck isn’t “really real”. Our fire truck is the Velveteen Rabbit of fire trucks. The Mayapple School students get in that truck and go put out fires with all of the professionalism they can muster. Sometimes they even give CPR if the ambulance doesn’t get there first. They’ve turned that truck into REAL, and anyone who remembers their own childhood can see the magic at work. (Though the way that seven or eight little preschoolers can squeeze into about 10 square feet of space without fighting might just be the real magic that is going on. It doesn’t always happen… but when it does, they don’t even fight over the one fire fighter costume that we have.)
The best games of “Let’s pretend” happen when a group of children all suspend their state of disbelief in the same way. They all come to the same agreement about what objects stand for which other objects, what the purpose of their play is, and which roles people have.
Teachers can’t play “Let’s Pretend,” for students. Only the student can do the work to get there. But, teachers can facilitate it. In the next blog posts coming up, I’ll share some techniques we’ve used at The Mayapple School to facilitate hours of pretend play in our classroom. I’ll post about:
- building background knowledge
- setting the stage and effectively using and making props
- planning, communicating, and evaluating pretend play roles and scenarios
My assistant and I have been trying out some new techniques in facilitating pretend play, keeping records along the way. She’s joked that it makes her feel like an anthropologist studying a secret civilization. There is a surprising amount of depth in children’s pretend play, and many researchers believe it enables children to learn important executive functioning skills in addition to social skills and creativity. We’re definitely big believers of protecting the child’s space and right to play over at The Mayapple School. I hope you’ll check back with us as we explore this topic further.