Swiss psychologist Jean Piaget theorized in the pre-operational stage between two and seven years, children start using objects or actions to give meanings other than literal ones like using a pasta strainer as a hat. This is symbolic play and marks the beginning of creativity and conceptual learning. The following article provides the three main phases of symbolic play in the preoperational stage from 18 months to 5 years old and how educators can support their learners in each phase.
Symbolic Play At 18 Months Old
The earliest phase of symbolic play begins at around eighteen months of age. This is the time when toddlers start assigning other meanings to objects like using a block of wood as the TV remote or pushing it forward and back to the sound of ‘Vroom…vroom’ to imitate a toy car.
Supporting Symbolic Play At 18 Months Old
Symbolic play also includes unrealistic actions like pretending to feed a doll with a spoon or giving it a cup to hold. In order to nurture symbolic play at this stage, give them enough room for playacting. Remove clutter and create enough space for them to slide, sway or use their limbs in different ways. Nurture their budding social skills like interacting face to face, making eye contact and mimicking their expressions.
Symbolic Play At 3 Years Old
From around three years, children will start exploring other personas and settings during symbolic play. They will often role-play situations at home like family dinner time or classroom relationships like that of a teacher and student. When engaging in role-play at this stage, children will largely follow social norms like pretending to instruct a student as they take on the role of the teacher or serving food to dollies if they are acting as the Mommy at the dinner table.
Supporting Symbolic Play At 3 Years Old
Facilitate such interesting role play by keeping toys, blocks and other play material easily accessible like on low shelves but avoid suggesting what they use and how. Give them the choice to play alone, with their peers or include you.
Symbolic Play At 5 Years Old
As children’s imagination and social skills grow stronger from roughly five years, their symbolic play too becomes more sophisticated. They are not just taking on roles themselves but designating roles for their peers and negotiating with them actions related to such roles. So if a child acts as the ‘baby’ in a family role play, he or she may not just passively wait to be fed and bathed but may even role play demanding actions or tantrums like a ‘real’ child.
Supporting Symbolic Play At 5 Years Old
Also, symbolic play at this stage will start to include sequential steps and organised plans. This will be evident when children plan tea parties and the way they start by seating their dollies, laying the table and proceeding to pretend to eat. You can support such dramatic play through more storytelling sessions or the use of music. At this stage, the child’s awareness of sequence can also be incorporated into learning moments like introducing counting or showing that reading happens from left to right.
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Symbolic Play Ideas, Health Line