Top 5 Gifts of Music

“I LOVE Music !” your child says, whether with words, or with their body when music is playing and when enjoying an instrument,  or with their facial expressions when you are singing with them.  If they could, they might tell you their top 5 gifts of music like this.

Baby FamilyI love to listen in the car, and sing along with the fun songs.  I love to make music with my instruments, and anything else I can bang on or shake ! Most of all, I love it when my family and I enjoy music activities together:

 
lap bounces with daddy like “Giddy Up A-Horsie”, dancing with scarves with mommy, and circle dances like “Ring Around the Rosie”… 
 
More, please.  Let’s do it again !
 
boy interacts with musicResearch shows that music activates my whole brain, enhancing ALL my learning right now,  and building a strong foundation for all my future learning.    My brain is always searching for patterns that help the world make sense, and music is full of patterns.  My brain learns best when comparing opposite concepts, and music is full of contrasts.  My brain learns best when NEW things catch my interest, and is followed by many repetitions to help keep strong what I have learned.   
 
More, please.  Let’s do it again !
 
girls eyesIf I could, I would tell you that the gift that would mean most to me,
the one that will fill more of each of my days with fun and learning,
the one that will last the longest, and make marvalous memories,
….
is the Gift of Music !

 
…………

 

My TOP 5 Gifts of Music
 
Classes - girl#1 – Kindermusik makes it fun and easy for me and my family to learn new songs and music activities, and gives us all the materials to keep the fun and learning going at home, and in the car !   And it makes me feel so good because Mrs. Debbie thinks I’m so unique and wonderful, and helps me learn in my own way.  
 
There are so many programs, for infants up to 7 years old, available in the Spring Semester starting in Feb.  But we don’t have to wait, let’s visit a class in January.  Check out the details on Kindermusik Gift Certificates, and about the Kindermusik Payment Plans
 
 
#2 – It is so much fun to unwrap and explore new  musical Instruments !
Mrs. Debbie recommends these shopping places:
  • The ONLINE Kindermusik Store has LOTS of great music, instruments, scarves, and even sets (best prices!).  Please “tell” them that Mrs. Debbie sent you by entering her educator code, #15788, at checkout.
  • At the studio, Mrs. Debbie has a limited supply of integrated music sets (that means CDs, books, instruments, props and more that ALL connect on a specific theme that kids LOVE.)  Click the yellow link, or contact Debbie for more details.
  • Boomwacker girlMusic for Little People has the best, most expansive collection of musical stuff for our young children.  Mrs. Debbie could get in a LOT of trouble here! 
  • Locally, there are several great music stores.  Did you know Brooke Potteryalso has a nice small selection?
  • Mrs. Debbie’s Advice: choose instruments your child can be successful with.   Some instruments, like a violin or guitar, are best considered with recommendations for the right size and quality, as well as lessons from a music educator.
#3 – I would LOVE to learn songs about things I am interested in !!!
SweetPea3On play.kindermusik.com, there are hundreds of songs , stories, and music to choose from.  AND, there is a way to SEARCH for songs about the things I like most, like TRAINS, CARS, ANIMALS, Princesses, or growing a garden.      It is easy to download these songs, and the first 10 credits are free when you log in.   Families enrolled in a Kindermusik class not only get the CDs, but they can dowload all the music from the class for FREE, along with MORE fun activities that are part of the semester. 
 
 Need something that is easy, durable, and safe for me to use to listen? Check out this cool SweetPea3 MP3 player
 
#4 –  I think I’m READY for music lessons! 
Am I ready to sit down one-on-one with a teacher for a specific instrument? 
Or will I learn best how to read and write music, and play instruments, through singing, moving, and playing games, which will get me READY for more formal lessons?   
Better talk to Mrs. Debbie and Mrs. Tiffany, to see what is best for me at this time. 
  • Kindermusik for the Young Child (ages 5 – 7) with Mrs. Debbie
  •  InTune Studios offers: Private lessons on the piano, violin, flute, guitar, or voice
    •  Art’Sing – unique program with group voice, acting, dance, and art
      • there is an Afterschool version that can include Martial Arts ! 
    • ART classes are available for toddlers, preschoolers, and elementary ages 
 #5 – The Greatest Gift is Musical TIME with YOU and ME

I really like to hear you sing to me, teach me the songs you grew up with, tell me rhymes while I bounce on your knees, pull out the pots and pans and tell me what beautiful music I am making, help me make homemade music instruments, dance with me with music that’s got a groove, and rock me to sleep with the most soothing lullabies.   It’s a gift you can give everyday, and it doesn’t cost a thing, except your time. 

More music, please.  Let’s do it Again !

What GIFT of music are you giving YOUR child or family this year?  Please share !

Grateful for Local Treasures

As I look around this holiday season, I am looking with a new perspective.  Looking past the glitter and hype, I am extremely GRATEFUL to find myself surrounded by so much personal talent, passionate interests, and dedicated hard-working people in my community.   Looking past the mass produced objects, and chain services, I find my neighbors putting their hearts and all their energy in their creations or services.

I LOVE walking around the local produce stands, or the downtown market, gathering fresh local produce, and getting to know the stories of those who live close to the land.  It is fascinating to hear how the weather has affected certain crops, or to taste the difference between varieties of local honeys: Orange Blossom, Wildflower, Tupelo, Florida Clover, etc.  

I enjoy catching the enthusiasm of my friends as they passionately share stories about their unique services: a community art teacher and vocal instructor who pair up to create a weekly experience that includes group voice, artistic set designs, costumes, choreography, acting and more;  a mother who loves to make unique hair bands and bows for her baby and delights in developing new styles to sell to other families;  a private restaurant owner who truly listens to his customers, and continues to make changes that reflect their preferences.

In this gift giving season, I have been struck by a new focus:   When we purchase objects and services that are created and offered by local people, they become treasured thoughtful gifts for our loved ones, as well the gift of support in our own little piece of the world.  I would go so far as to say that the economy of the USA depends upon recognizing the value of the contributions of our local talent.  So when purchasing gifts this holiday season, I am making sure to consider gifts that capture the bounty offered by those who are nearby.   

Ask about Gift Certificates

I have found that some of my favorite local service providers offer gift certificates when asked:  hair stylist, massage therapist, car detail shop, local golf course (my hubby will like that one).  My mom would LOVE the services of a local cleaning lady for a day.

Grandparents often are grateful to hear suggested “gifts” that will last over time, like gift certificates for weekly lessons from a dedicated community educator in areas like music, art, martial arts, etc.   AND, it is fun to pair that with an instrument, or supplies to enjoy unwrapping, that can be found through these educators, or they might recommend items from local shops.  (And yes, I do offer personalized gift certificates for Kindermusik semesters, as well as some unique gift sets this year.)

Wherever I go, I seek out unique owner-run restaurants.  I am fascinated to see exactly what I will get when I order a chili relleno – same name and general idea, yet sooo many ways to prepare it.  I LOVE finding little places that serve the BEST food, with the BEST attitude.  The gift certificates may not be displayed for all to see, but are usually available when requested.

Of course, I have always LOVED listening to live music, and I enjoy many types of concerts.  But this year, I have come to fully appreciate listening to local musicians in a toned down atmosphere, like the wine bar nights offered at local restaurants.  Just this weekend, we enjoyed “Billy Needs a Beard” at the Bay Street Bistro.  On other nights, we have truly enjoyed the unique versions of songs played by Brian Sutherland and his group (I love it when they bring out the cello and stand up bass), and the original music by Derik Thomas – a 17 year old Harrison student with talent in abundance.  This is an easy gift for my friends… “Meet me for a bottle of wine and some fabulous music…”  Their gift for me is simply their company.  And we leave a good tip for our musician and restaurant friends.

For those folks on my holiday list that live far away, I find it fun to send them something that is uniquely local, like the honey I was talking about earlier, alligator jerky, a box of oranges, or a piece of art gathered locally at art or music festivals.  I’m always astonished at what can be found.   

Just a few weeks ago, at the River Hawk Music Festival, it was so much fun to explore the unique creations of Florida artisans.   A Naples man was selling seashells that he makes into musical instruments.  What I loved was the story of his discovery.  From the shore, he saw some dolphins in the gulf, and wanted them to come closer.  Already familiar with how to make a whistling sound with an acorn cap, he found a shell on the beach, and adapted the technique to whistle through the shell to call out to the dolphin as he waded into the water.  It worked, and the dolphins were curious enough to come close enough for him to touch.  Ever since then, he has passionately explored the sounds that can be derived from making and playing Seashell Music.    Yes, my husband found them first, and was smart enough to buy a set of them as gifts for me !  But he’s not really good about keeping secrets, and knew that part of the gift is the story, and made sure to introduce me to the artist.

No matter where you are, THESE KINDS OF PEOPLE are in abundance.  This is the heart of our community.   Seek them out!  Talk to them!  Become a part of the pulse in your little piece of the world, and the benefits will come back around in ways we can’t imagine.

Sometimes, though, they are hard to find.  Most of the time, we simply hear about them from local folks who have stumbled across them, and found a true treasure.  So PLEASE SHARE !  I would love to see a wealth of sharing of the unique treasures that can be found in Lakeland, FL, Polk County, and surrounding areas.

Benefits of Beats for Babies and Beyond

Why do I need to spend time with my child focusing on Steady Beat?  There’s an old adage, “With age comes wisdom”.  And then there’s the comedy trailer, “… and sometimes age comes all by itself.”    The same is true for steady beat. 

Most people don’t understand its importance:  in an international study by the High/Scope Educational Research Foundation, the majority of 2,000 teachers and 5,000 parents indicated steady beat was only of moderate importance, and that no teaching was necessary for it to occur.  (Weikert, 1999)

BUT, a steady beat does not develop along with the ability to walk.  Just because we have a steady heartbeat does not mean everyone can match the beat of recorded music.  There are plenty of adults who don’t have this ability.  How many of you KNOW someone with “two left feet”?   It doesn’t mean they can’t learn it.  It just means they haven’t…  yet.     

Steady Beat, at any age, must be experienced fully.   And “developing a sufficient level of competence requires support from knowledgeable adults and plenty of opportunities for active engagement in targeted learning experiences.”  (Weikert, 2003)   In other words, get with someone who knows what they are doing, who can provide a wide variety of activities that can help that skill develop.

If this worries you as a parent (if you feel you have two left feet), be comforted.  For one – please realize that parents do not have to dance with a perfect beat, or sing with a perfect pitch.  Your joyful musical interactions with your child are beneficial across so many developmental realms – the musical benefit is just one of them.  Just KEEP making music with your child, even if you can’t “carry a tune in a bucket”, or you avoid skipping rope like it’s a snake!

In Kindermusik, a licensed educator facilitates the class, providing the “knowledgeable adult” who will help both you and your child to experience and develop this skill.  Even in class, we offer a variety of options, allowing each individual to find their own “best way” for beat development.   It’s never too late to learn !

So WHY is it so important to teach it to my child NOW?

Like learning a language, steady beat, rhythms and pitch of music are best learned through immersion at a young age.  As we talk, sing, and interact with our children throughout the day, they are naturally learning and using the same skills that are somewhat more difficult to learn later in life.   With each repeated steady beat activity in childhood, the early neural networks are laying a solid foundation upon which MUCH MORE information will be connected.   As the child is developing the concepts and skills, the benefits start working right away !

The consequence of insufficient steady beat experiences in early years can result in poor physical coordination, halting speech (in some cases, stuttering), and even weakness in thought flow. 

 So, really, how important is  steady beat competency?

Of course, there is the fact that a good steady beat is required for any musician to play an instrument effectively, as a soloist, or as part of a larger group of musicians;  and the sooner they learn it, the better.   Formal music instructors on any instrument, including the voice, can guide the child’s progress so much more effectively if the student has already have mastered steady beat.  Just ask a music educator.  You will get an earful.

But if someone is not planning to become a musician, how much does it really matter? 

Steady beat is an organizer for the child, purposeful and calming.

This skill is required for many physical abilities, both large motor skills, like walking, skipping, and bouncing a ball, as well as fine motor skills, like using a pair of scissors, or chopping vegetables quickly like a master chef. 

Because beat, rhythms and pitch are also a part of language, the addition of rhythmic and music experiences in their daily routines also supports the child’s development of speech, communication, and writing skills.  Actually, we KNOW that steady beat can help those who stutter to speak more clearly.   Some Scientists believe that a poor sense of rhythm could be the cause of dyslexia.  “Researchers concluded that an awareness of beats can influence the way young children assimilate speech patterns, which may in turn affect their reading and writing abilities.” These examples underscore the importance of steady beat in helping children make sense of their world and organize their responses.”  (Education Tuesday, 23 July 2002).

Feeling and moving to steady beat develops a sense of time, and the ability to organize and coordinate movements within time.   (A sense of time… what a great gift to give your child. )

The research carried out by High/Scope Educational Research Foundation (Timing in Child Development,  Kuhlman & Schweinhart, 1999) shows a positive correlation of steady beat to many academic and school skills, as well as physical coordination. 

“Standardized testing shows that children with steady beat independence are better readers and more successful in mathematics.  Further, teachers report that children with better abilities in steady beat are more well behaved in class and have less aggressive physical contact with other students.  Steady beat seems to help in these areas because it contributes to children’s ability to concentrate, to understand space and distance, and to have better control of their actions.”  (Weikert, 2003)

Wow !  All that can come from learning to keep a steady beat !?!   How can that be?

Well, let’s take a look at which basic skills are involved in developing true competence with steady beat:

They must LISTEN – intentionally listen – well enough to feel the beat in their head and in their body.  That, in itself, takes training.

They must OBSERVE – to watch closely enough to match the actions of others;  from the early stages of learning to keep a basic beat, to when they become involved with ensembles (playing music with others in a group).

They must CONTROL their movements, not just for a moment, but over time -coordinating their actions according to what they HEAR and SEE – repeatedly and consistently.

These are a fabulous set of skills to continually practice and develop for any aspect of life (and they do not necessarily develop in the natural course of aging.) 

Fascinating, isn’t it?   Now that you know WHY, let’s move on to WHAT &  HOW:

A Parent’s Guide to Beats and Rhythms –  includes games to help clarify these topics

Developmental Progression of Steady Beat – how the skill develops over time

The best teaching methods for parents to use, with links to a wide variety of ideas specific to each age group;  babies, walkers, preschoolers.

References

Insights on the value of music and steady beat  article by Phyllis S. Weikart   This article helped me round out a lot of my thoughts on this topic, and is referred to regularly in this review.  It is well worth your time to read the whole article, which also includes other musical skills such as pitch. http://www.childcareexchange.com/library/5015386.pdf

BBC News Education. (Tuesday, 23 July,2002). “Poor Rhythm ‘at heart of dyslexia’.“ pg. 1.

www.highscope.org/Research/Timing  Paper/timing study.htm

Weikart, D. P. (1999). What Should Young Children Learn? Teacher and Parent Views in 15 Countries. Ypsilanti, MI:  High/Scope Press.

America The Beautiful Helps Children Connect

Do you and your children get tingles of pride when you see a large flag waving in the wind, or hear the national anthem, or sing “America, the Beautiful” together?   I DO, I proudly put my hand over my heart and often get tears in my eyes as I watch the flag parade by.  I cherish the freedom  available in our country, appreciate the sacrifices of  the veterans and families that helped us achieve it, and recognize our personal responsibilities to maintain it.  And I am doing my best to help my children feel the same feelings of pride and connection.  I want them to visualize for themselves the “spacious skies”, and “purple mountain majesties”.

This video of “America, The Beautiful” allows the viewer to see snippets of the beauty of this country while listening to a grand chorus which helps build this feeling of awe and wonder.  This version also includes the lyrics  throughout the video so all can sing along.

 

The song, “America, the Beautiful” is a perfect simple song, with an appropriate vocal range, to help children FEEL the pride of their country.  It is short and slow enough to sing well at a young age, allowing them to mentally visualize the many aspects of the lyrics.  

And when the many voices of a family sing it at the same time, it helps build emotional bonds in the child that helps them know they BELONG… with their family, and with their country.  This is critical to the emotional health of every child… every person.  It also helps our children establish the kind of respect for their natural world that will inspire them to help maintain this healthy beauty far  into the future.

During this last two weeks, my family has froliced in the new spring flowers and romped in knee deep snow at Angel Lake in Nevada, taken a tour of an underground wonderland (Timpanogas Cave), floated and bumped down the Colorado River, and hiked to exquisite red rock arches and formations in SouthEastern Utah.  Yesterday, we went horseback riding in the mountains of Northern Utah.   We are a little sore and achy, but love the connections we have made, with family, with nature, and with our beautiful world.

Many of the treasures of our nation, and of nature in general, can be experienced with a minimal budget.  Just go outside, try some new nature activities, find out the “national treasures” that are near you, and explore our wonderful world.  I will be sharing some fun ideas for nature activities, and family sing a long songs through Facebook and Twitter, so LIKE my FB Page, and follow @debbiemondale on Twitter, and join in the conversation.  I’d LOVE to hear how YOUR family makes the beauty of our country come alive.

The Old Woman in a Shoe gets a Mommy Makeover

There Was an Old WomanA nice short sweet note for you for Mother’s Day. 

Enjoy this loving revision of  There Was an Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe (by Becky Bailey) with your child.  

Look directly into your child’s eyes, use your most expressive voice with your young child as they sit on your lap, or lay in bed.  Lovingly, hold their hand and enjoy this finger play.

A wonderful woman who lived in a shoe,   (place your child’s hand between your two hands)
She had so many children she knew exactly what to do.  (with one hand wiggle each finger individually on the child’s hand)
She held them. She rocked them, and tucked them in bed.  (hold & rock the hand, bring to your chest)
“I love you, I love you” is what she said.       (speak directly to the child, then snuggle)

You may even hold the hand against the heart and ask the child if they can feel the heart beat.  Then have them feel their own.  A child’s heartbeat is a little faster than an adult’s, can they tell the difference?    If you HUM a familiar lullaby right now, the child can feel the vibration in your chest.

This quiet activity allows the child to be bathed in a full sensory experience: they HEAR these sweet words, they SEE your adoring eyes, they FEEL your sensitive touch on their hands, they hear and feel the deep underlying rhythms of the poem, and of the heart, and deep in their heart, their EMOTIONS absorb the love.  In their brain, natural chemicals are released that allow the stress of the day to melt away, and different chemicals set the stage for new connections, strong connections of language, of love, and of the comfort of a safe place to be.

“Again… Again, mommy?”  Say yes.  Repetition makes the connections stronger.  Strong enough to make them feel comfortable even in a strange place when you recite the rhyme.  With enough repetition, the child may, at some point, replay the scenario in their minds, even when you are not there, to help them reach that sense of calm when they need it most.

A mother’s love extends far beyond their physical being.  It extends into the heart – forever.

***  For more such rhymes and loving rituals with your child, please order the book (and maybe even the CDs) called “I Love You Rituals” by Becky Bailey.  I LOVE her perspective… so will you.

PS.  Of course, Kindermusik is FULL of these types of magical musical moments, which you learn in class, with other loving parents, and build your “musical and literary” mommy library, so you can use them in your daily routines with your family.  Repetition is good for the child, but the mommy brain LOVES new material to work with. 

Check out a Kindermusik program near you.

Wow!  While looking around, I found an amazing website based on this rhyme.  New verses, coloring pages, games, even recipies.  Ha !  What fun !  When you get a chance, check out Alphabet Soup.    Then you can submit your own fun ideas !

PLEASE share the song or rhyme that you use with your child to connect, calm, and thrive.

Stopping, Trading, Taking Turns, and Waiting

Does your child have the ability to stop on cue?  How about the ability to wait patiently to take a turn with a desired toy or object?  How about the ability to see ONE marshmallow in front of them, and wait awhile WITHOUT eating it, in order to get TWO marshmallows upon your return? 

I can wait. They won't be late. For I am GREAT... at WAITING !

 

Your child’s ability to successfully master these inhibitory control tasks are a significant factor in their future success, in some ways even more of an indicator of their future success than their academic abilities. 

These are skills that a child can gain through positive practice, and is one of the most fundamental ways that parents can set their children up for future success, in whatever they choose to do.   Start young, and it will be a natural part of their personality.  But whatever the age, start !

Let’s examine several aspects of Inhibitory Control, and see how the Marshmallow Test is an indicator of the ability for Delayed Gratification, as skill necessary for success in life.

Inhibitory Control is the ability to control your own actions.  It is the “ability to resist a strong inclination to do one thing and instead to do what is most appropriate or needed. Instead of reacting with what is on the mind at that moment, the child has to stop or inhibit that inclination and enact something else.”  (Metropolitan State College of Denver – see article.)

STOP ON CUE:  In Kindermusik classes, children even as young as one year old, are exposed to activities where we move for awhile, then STOP on cue.  With babies, they are simply in mom’s arms when they first experience it.  They like it, and come to anticipate it.    As they get older, we also teach children to use sign language for STOP when they stop (it really helps).  I’ve seen children as young as 16 months old effectively SIGN and STOP at the appropriately time in the activity – right on CUE !  We practice this regularly throughout our core curriculum (0-7 yrs) in lots of different ways, with our bodies, using instruments, using props such as scarves, or even with balls (one of the hardest).

Being able to THINK BEFORE YOU ACT:  Young babies often grab toys from each other even without a reaction.  But once they start to grasp the concept of MINE (because I am holding it), they get upset if it is taken away.  In Kindermusik, one of the strategies we start teaching is the concept of trading.  In order to get one object, the person should offer another object in exchange, an example of one of the more socially acceptable ways of getting something that is desired.  Of course, this is an abstract concept for babies, so we just help them go through the movements to experience it, and they can see it does help with the interactions with other babies (less crying).  As they get older, with enough practice, they cognitively start to realize the need to consider others reactions before they act. 

TURN TAKING:  It is soooo hard to wait for a turn to handle a desired object.  One of the best ways to get a child to want to play with something is to pick it up and start playing with it yourself.  (This is a parenting trick which plays on their natural reactions.)   Starting at around 18 months, we start offering opportunities to WAIT PATIENTLY for a turn to handle a desired object.  It is best to use activities that have a specified limit on the time for each turn, such as a song.  When the song is over, it is the next person’s turn.

Here’s an example, in the Our Time class, we use a set of resonator bars to play along with a song “Sweetly Sings the Donkey”.  Only one set of resonator bars is presented.  It is hard enough to wait while the teacher plays an example.   The children are instructed to sit on their parents lap in order to get a turn to play the instruments.  Parents are provided ideas on how to get their child engaged with the activity in their own way as they WAIT for their turn.  In this manner, parents are helping their child practice skills that can help them wait. 

At first, it requires parent assistance, and working with a child to find strategies that work best for each child specifically.  Hopefully at some point, they will start to be able to use the same skills themselves in situations where an adult is not present.   

This leads to success in what is called DELAYED GRATIFICATION, the ability to forgo an immediate pleasure or reward in order to gain a more substantial one later.  The ability to do this effectively increases as children get older.  Having the opportunity to practice effective waiting strategies regularly will increase this ability even more.  As will a child’s ability to focus on the FUTURE, more than on the PRESENT.  The ability to delay gratification is often a sign of emotional and social maturity.

The MARSHMALLOW TEST is a classic study that tests a child’s ability to delay gratification.  It studies the strategies that helped children wait, and follows them through to adulthood and measures their success as young adults.  Not surprisingly, those who were more successful with this delayed gratification test ended up more successful in life.  (The New Yorker Article  “Don’t !  The secret to self control” is a LONG but FASCINATING article presenting the details of this study in depth.)

In this test, children were placed by themselves in a room with a table, a chair, and a marshmallow on a plate in front of them.  They were told they could eat the marshmallow if they wanted to, but if they waited until the researcher returned, they would get TWO marshmallows.  Through prestudies, they found that children 3 years old and younger had little ability to wait.  But starting around 4 years old, there were some who could.  So the initial test, by Stanford psychology professor Walter Mischel 40 years ago, involved only 4 year olds.  Two out of three children were not able to wait.  But 1/3 of them did.  The videos capturing their reactions while alone are priceless !     

Get the basics of the study, and global implications, in this video of a wonderful short lecture by Joachim de Posada:

For some belly laughs, watch the Mature Marshmallow Test with adults. 

How would YOUR child fare in this test?  This fun article tells How to Give the Marshmallow Test.      (This is recommended for children over 4 years old and older.)  PLEASE read the directions fully and NOTE that the results of your child’s test is not an indicator of future success, but rather an observation of their current skill level with these abilities.

Musical activities are an excellent way for a child to learn self control, and to occupy themselves while waiting, through finger plays, singing songs or rhymes, creative movement, and imaginative storytelling.  Parents can help their child gain these skills by practicing these activities during WAITING times, like in line at the grocery store.   What strategies would your child use to WAIT for a 2nd marshmallow?

If you choose to implement this test with your child, PLEASE post your comments here !  If possible, include a video of your child while they are waiting.

A Parent’s Guide to the Stages of Pretend Play

Experience…  Imitate…  Recognize…  Connect… Pretend… Engage… Solve problems… Expand mental images… Create…

I see these as the developmental stages, and concurrent developmental benefits, of pretend play.  Although the progression is from younger to older, from simple to complex, they may occur at any age, and at differing levels for different subject matter.  Observation will help determine where your child’s stage may be, and the examples show good ways to help them benefit from that stage fully – which is necessary before they move to the next stage.

This is a brain storm that has been brewing in my head for weeks, esp. as I watched children expanding on pretend ideas in their costumes, and is finally drizzling its way out into words at midnight, and is somewhat based on research over time, and is somewhat limited to my own brain’s way of synthesizing things.  This is for PARENTS enjoying and supporting their child’s growing abilities.  It is NOT a precise summary based on specific research.   So please feel free to add, or correct, or comment.  I’d love to know your perspective. 

Experience:  The ability to interact with the original REAL OBJECT.

A young baby feels a real tree, and crunches the leaves with his feet and hands, while Mommy uses words to describe what is seen, heard, and felt, and sings a song about leaves.  “Autumn leaves are falling down, falling, falling, falling down…”   Mommy and baby will throw the leaves in the air and watch them fall.  These CONCRETE (REAL to the TOUCH) experiences are CRITICAL for a child to develop of BASE of knowledge, building a foundation of neural connections in the brain from which all continued development will come.  So, Parents, give your baby EVERY OPPORTUNITY to experience as much of what is REAL as possible.  Learning from books and video representations have their place, but nothing can replace the learning gained from touching and exploring what is REAL.

Imitate:  The ability to copy what another is doing.

A baby must first fully observe – carefully and repeatedly watch and listen, in order to create the same sound, or movement of another person.    Babies and great actors are masters at this.   A baby watches a leaf fall gently from a tree, then mommy raises her hand and pretends to let it float down, while saying “swishy-swish, ooooh.”  After watching MANY repetitions, a baby may start to imitate these sounds and actions.  They are trying to understand the world around them, and how it works – through another’s eyes, and through trying to recreate it. 

Recognize:   The ability to see something as something else.

At home, Mommy cuts up pieces of colorful paper, and lets them float down to her baby, singing the same song.  (We do this in the Village class!)   At first Baby imitates without understanding, but through repetition with both real and substitute objects, a baby begins to recognize that one object can substitute for another object.  This is the beginning of pretend play.   It is also the beginning of understanding language – how a word can mean an object or an action.

Connect:  The ability to see relationships between objects or ideas.

At some point, the child begins to see that the tree and the leaf belong together, even if they are not attached.   They may pick up a leaf and try to put it back on the tree, and may be confused why it won’t stay there.   They are happy to have a few torn pieces of colorful paper to “attach” to a tree trunk drawn on a piece of paper.  Then letting them all fall off, and starting again.  The brain THRIVES on making connections such as these, expanding and expanding on their knowledge based on concrete (real to the touch) experiences.

Mom can also start the process with an apple – fully experiencing a real apple, showing how it comes from a tree, and providing red circles to add to our pretend tree and leaves.   “Shake, shake the apple tree; apples red and juicy.  One for you… One for me.  Shake, shake the apple tree.”

Pretend:  The ability to create actions based on a mental image of something that is not currently present.

It is fascinating to see when imitations occur spontaneously – when an adult is not actively engaged.  They are starting to generate the mental image of when mom did it, and to imitate when their brain chooses to, rather than when someone else is encouraging them to.  I was so delighted when I saw my son pretending to sleep and snore for the first time.  I KNOW what a great leap this is in development. 

It is often fun to “BE” the object when this begins to occur.  At first, the mental image is just of the tree and a few objects connected to it.  The child loves to stand still and hold a ball in each hand, pretending to be the tree, and to have Dad “shake the tree” while singing, then pick up the apples, sharing one for each, and pretending to eat the apples.  Pretend play at this stage is based in reality, and involves props that can be held.

A few years ago, a wonderful mom was spurred by the emergence of her daughter’s ability to pretend, and who wanted to BE an APPLE TREE.  So mom designed a Tree Trunk costume for her to wear, with leaves and apples that were attached to the tree.   These kind of props lead to extended pretend play, and to further levels of pretend play.

There are LOTS of stages in this particular process, from these first stages of spontaneous imitation, to full mental images of a tree and the space in which it grows as well as objects and characters that are connected to it.  I won’t be presenting all the levels in order, but the following are extensions of pretend play.

Engage:  The ability to include others in creating abstract scenarios.

The first time a child offers Mom, or a doll, a spoonful of applesauce that is not actually on the spoon, the pretend play is expanding outside themselves.  Whoop !  Now you are in trouble – they want to play with you ALL the time.  Parents that take the time to let go of the rest of life for a few moments, and immerse themselves in this pretend play offer their child and themselves extensive benefits of expansion, cooperation, and connection.   The child recognizes their ideas are worth your time, and parents can lead the child into new levels of play. 

Parents can actually lead them into more independent play by expanding on the steps involved, and in developing more character roles.   Use their dolls and/or stuffed animals as friends they can be included in their play.  “Benny the giraffe can shake the apples on the top of the tree, while Sammy, the squirrel, gathers them, and Edda, the elephant helps squish the apples into applesauce.”  Don’t you wish you had that much help?  This may also help them identify the “properties” of the different characters, to recognize their strengths and how to use them wisely.  Eventually, a parent can encourage them to continue the play with their host of characters, take a bit of a break, then return later to see how the play is coming along.

Solve Problems:   The ability to mentally go through a series of solutions to come up with a suitable solution.

Siblings and friends are excellent companions for pretend play, and can help expand their perceptions of a scenario – perhaps they like oranges and orange juice better.  When peers are involved, opinions and feelings may differ, which offers the opportunity to cooperate and solve problems.  “I like apples, but Sally likes oranges.  What can we do to make this play work for everyone?”

Friends or parents, or the child themselves, may also bring up new ideas for play that require problem solving.  For example, pretending to climb up into the tree, “How are we going to get UP there?” – engage them in a conversation of possibilities and how they think each one would work.  Go outside and try a few.  Are the branches easy to reach?  Is it as easy to climb a rope as once thought?  What would make it easier?   These concrete experiences can later help them visualize these solutions and apply them to other situations.  

Of course, some of their solutions may be a bit fantastic and unrealistic, and mentally imagining all sorts of solutions is encouraged.  There are many things real now that were never considered an option before, and that is because the mental images for some folks expanded beyond what they could see as “realistic” solutions.

Expand mental imaging:  The ability to mentally SEE more of the scene of the object and/or idea.

Their abilities to expand their mental images can be enhance by adding new dimensions to the play, like pretending to climb a tree and explore what can be seen (or heard)  IN the tree, and AROUND the tree.  There is a great Kindermusik song for the preschoolers for this kind of play, “I like to climb up in my treehouse… to see what I can see.”   This is fun to do with several children, because they will learn from each other, and expand on each other’s ideas, and help each other solve problems,  “I SEE… a spider – I’m scared!  What should I do?”    Whereas,  “I SEE… a nest ” – opens up all kinds of conversations, and further mental images. 

Create:  The ability to use a variety of objects and/or ideas in creative ways to develop something unique.

When a child has built a strong foundation of understanding an object or idea in soooo many ways, they may then be able to synthesize all of their explorations into more complex scenarios, and sequenced story play.  A child may collect pretend (or real) materials to “build a treehouse”, invite his friends (real or stuffed) to play and explore, and to protect the nest of eggs until they are hatched and the little baby birds learn to fly.   An older child may actually take a branch from a real tree, design and build a “treehouse” in it, and use objects to represent herself and household objects while creating a variety of scenarios and stories of what it would be like to actually LIVE in a tree.

Children who have been surrounded by music and songs up to this point will often make up their own songs that relate to their pretend play.  Parents can invite and encourage this addition.  This is expanding their ability to create –words into sentences about their play, and to create a melody that matches the words and is pleasing to them.  It doesn’t have to be on pitch, or even make sense, just enjoy the wonder of their processing.

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Isn’t the process fascinating ?!  Specialists in child development are probably going through this and thinking of all the things I left out.  As a matter of fact, after I wrote this, I looked up some better resources online and found an excellent article that gets into actual research and description about the stages of pretend play – Different stages of pretend play and how they relate to language development , very interesting and well written, but not necessarily consolidated succinctly for parents.

 I hope this overview of mine (certainly not original ideas, but maybe just the way it is presented) helps parents be able to easily see and recognize where their child IS in their PRETEND PLAY development, and how to interact with their child to help build their abilities at each stage. 

 I recommend regular scaffolding procedures (like we use in Kindermusik class), adapted to pretend play situations:

OBSERVE, using words to identify what is observed:  Watch your child to see evidence of pretend play (initiated on their own), and at what stage they may be.  Specifically describe what you see, and ask them to describe it if they can.  “That apple just fell off your tree, and you picked it up and tasted it to see how juicy it was.  Tell me more…”  

IMITATE:  With or without words, make the same motions as the child, bringing yourself into their world, accepting their world as an OK place to be.

ENHANCE:  Ask open ended questions to encourage their ability to come up with NEW ways to explore or play.  “What else can you see up in the tree?”  “Who else do you think might live in the tree?”   “An apple grows on a tree.  What else grows on a tree?  What can we do with that?”  After exploring some of their responses, then parents can make one or two more suggestions they hadn’t thought of yet, and expand on those ideas.  Next time you play, recognize if they bring up these new topics on their own.

ENJOY the process of pretend play as it develops in your child.  If you’d like ongoing ideas and songs to help in this process at each age and stage, get ideas from Kindermusik International, and/or get involved in a class (see website).  If you already are, YEA ! – you are taking steps everyday to make your child’s play as enriching as possible.  Kindermusik is NOT required to enhance your child’s development through music, but it SURE makes it  EASY and FUN !

Got questions?  Please ask.  

                Got a story?  Please tell. 

                             Beg to differ?  Let’s hear it.      

                                           I LOVE a good conversation !  Here or on FB.