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Play Therapy: Resolution of Core Feelings through Play
10 CEUs Play Therapy: Resolution of Core Feelings through Play

Section 25
Developmental Roots of Pretend Play

CEU Question 25 | CEU Answer Booklet | Table of Contents | Play Therapy CEU Courses
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Acting things out, whether in the home, school, or playroom, is natural for most children; but for the young child, play does not begin immediately and automatically, as we know from Piaget's (1962) careful studies. symbolic play stage Play Therapy mft CEU courseInstead, play follows a sequence of development which is dependent not only on cognitive and language development, but also on environmental, cultural, and familial factors. The infant doesn't know how to play; it is only with experience (and crucial help from a mother or caretaker) that she or he builds a repertoire of behaviors that emerge into organized patterns of investigation. Sucking, biting, throwing, grasping. dropping-the infant learns about him or herself and the surrounding world in the first stage of play, the sensorimotor period, which extends from infancy through 18 to 24 months. Over time, the child "assimilates" new activities into already existing patterns of behavior and "accommodates" his or her perceptual and motor behavior to the outside world of reality (Piaget, 1962). There is a gradual progression from undifferentiated random actions to meaningful activity, until, between 18 and 24 months, the child begins to indicate a representational use of toys.

The second stage in the developmental sequence of play is made possible by cognitive as well as linguistic growth. During this period, commonly called the symbolic play stage and occurring between two and six years, the child shows a different kind of activity-imitating and pretending. The ability to symbolize, evident in pretending, is uniquely human. In children the ability to pretend coalesces into thematic play and signifies a major advance in development, the visible result of the synthesis of many prior events. The child is able to assume an "as if" stance, using one thing to "stand for" or represent (symbolize) another, to which it may be vaguely, accidentally, perhaps unconsciously, related.

In pretending, the child imitates people and objects, creates new situations, and puts real and imagined experiences together in new combinations. The result is "pretending" wherein the child takes roles, creates a loosely structured plot and a make-believe setting, and uses props to enact experiences that she or he has experienced or fantasized. The play activities of this period are spontaneous and self-generating, voluntary, ends in themselves, and therefore goalless or unrelated to "work" (Lowenfeld, 1967; Huizinga, 1955; Piaget. 1962; Ward, 1957Pretending seems easy, being simply an elaboration and enactment of the story-the who, what, where, when, and why. In actuality, however, it is not that simple; a certain level of cognitive, lingual, and emotional maturity is necessary before a child can symbolize experiences through pretend play. Smilansky (1968), in a study of disadvantaged children in Israel, outlined six elements she felt were important for pretend play (which she called sociodramatic play or social dramatic play):

1. Imitative role play-taking roles and enacting characterizations via appropriate speech, gesture, and pantomime.
2. Make-believe with objects-using real or imaginary objects to "stand for" other things.
3. Make-believe in regard to actions and situations-pretending according to time and place and agreeing upon certain conventions in the play.
4. Persistence-sticking with the play for a designated time period.
5. Interaction-working with another in shared pretend play.
6. Verbal communication-using words to elaborate on the story with others. (Pp. 7-10).

Like Anna Freud (1965), Smilansky considered that play was related to work in that the skills rehearsed in play are necessary for the "school game" of the next stage. When children reach school age, however, pretending becomes less overt, more covert. Rather than act things out, older children do more fantasizing and carry on monologues intérieurs ("interiorized play"), as emphasized by Piaget (1962), Singer (1966), and Sarnoff (1976). In this stage of games with rules, from ages six to 12, children turn toward reality and their use of reasoning and symbols becomes more logical and objective. Play and fantasy become more realistic, and the child realizes that overt pretend play is not socially acceptable. Fantasy play, therefore, gradually becomes internalized. Singer (1966) suggests that fantasy-play material becomes stored as a series of images or impressions, to be recalled later on demand. Even though fantasy goes partly underground, as it were, one can still see in it the child's interests and preoccupations as they change over time. For example. we have Sam's play; *

When Sam was four and five, he and his friends enjoyed rough games of cops and robbers, with its "bang bang, you're dead" quality. At eight and nine, their favorite game was "Detective."

Making badges and writing reports of past (imaginary) successful exploits, Sam and Company made elaborate plans to watch for "suspicious moves" in the neighborhood. Careful maps and drawings were made of houses and streets, walkie-talkies and telescopes were constructed, secret passwords rehearsed. Much time was spent devising "correct" procedures and regulations by which the detectives operated. Occasionally the area was secretly surveyed (usually at twilight) to see if there were any untoward changes. Anchored partly in reality and partly in fantasy. the game was rooted in a shared wish to know and learn the secrets of the grown-ups.
- Schaefer, Charles & Kevin O'Connor, Handbook of Play Therapy, John Wiley & Sons, New York: 1983.

Personal Reflection Exercise #11
The preceding section contained information about developmental roots of pretend play. Write three case study examples regarding how you might use the content of this section in your practice.

Online Continuing Education QUESTION 25
What is the second stage in the developmental sequence of play identified by imitating and pretending? Record the letter of the correct answer the CEU Answer Booklet.

 

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