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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):
role play-taking roles and enacting characterizations via appropriate speech,
gesture, and pantomime.
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."
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.
Enactive account of pretend play and its application to therapy
- Rucinska, Z., & Reijmers, E. (2015). Enactive account of pretend play and its application to therapy. Frontiers in psychology, 6, 175. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2015.00175.
Reflection Exercise #11
Swank, J. M., & Smith-Adcock, S. (2018). On-task behavior of children with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder: Examining treatment effectiveness of play therapy interventions. International Journal of Play Therapy, 27(4), 187–197.