* Please note that the words are italicized when Mom or Ellie speak as a character in their play.
Mom makes motor sounds as she guides a car full of characters toward the cabin cruiser.
Ellie: (Pushing her car full of characters toward the boat) Here’s the boat!
Mom: Wow! This is a big party boat (making her characters hop onto the boat one at a time). Everybody get on the boat.
Ellie rapidly pushes the characters back toward the house.
Mom: (Hopping the one remaining character up onto the boat) Everybody get in the boat.
Ellie: (Using a puzzle piece as the shark) Oh, it’s the shark!
Mom: (Gathering up some of the characters Ellie returned to the house and speaking in a character’s voice) Where did everybody go?
Mom: There’s the shark?
Mom: There’s a shark in the water? Oh, no! Everybody get on the boat. Hurry! Hurry!
Ellie holds the dog character and barks.
Mom: Is the dog getting on the boat?
Ellie: (Holding the dog and the shark and shaking her head) No.
Mom: You can’t let the dog stay in the water.
Mom: Should she jump? (Pointing to part of the boat) What is this? What’s that called?
Ellie: A jump board.
Mom: A diving board that you jump on.
Mom: (Makes character jump up and down three times on diving board and jump into water) One, two, three! I’m going to save you, doggie! (She scoops up the doggie character and puts him on the boat.)
Mom: Should I save the doggie? We can’t let the doggie be eaten by a shark! (Pointing to the shark in Ellie’s hand) Is this the big shark? Whoa!
Mom: (Pushes the boat away from Ellie and back again) Let’s paddle the boat!
Ellie: (Making a noise as if a character is frightened) Ahhhhhh!
Mom: We want to go… Is it safe? Is it safe? We want to go dive and swim in the water.
Ellie grabs the doggie off the back of the boat.
Mom: Boy, that doggie likes the water. What’s he doing down there?
Ellie: (Holding the shark and the doggie so they face each other) He’s trying to eat the shark!
Mom: The dog is trying to eat the shark?
Mom: Doggie, what are you doing in the water?
Mom: (Pointing to the shark) What do you think this … Is this the shark again?
Mom: What’s the shark going to do?
Ellie: (Placing the doggie in a little motorboat) The doggie got on the little boat.
Mom: Ohhhhh. Do you think he’s safer in the little boat?
Mom: (Taking the little motorboat and pretending to drive it around) Rrrrrrrrrrrrrr…
Ellie moves the shark.
Mom: What’s the shark doing now?
Ellie: He’s trying to eat the boat!
Mom: Trying to eat the boat. (Driving the big boat around on the carpet) Rrrrrrrrrrrrr…
Mom: (Moving the character around on boat) I just want to go swim in the water, but the shark’s always around. What should we do?
Mom: What should they do if they want to swim in the water and the shark is swimming around here?
Ellie: Maybe they could scare the shark away?
Mom: How could they do that?
Ellie: Maybe they could … maybe the doggie can bark at it. (Taking the dog out of the small boat and holding him close to the shark and making him bark) Ruff! Ruffruffruff! Ruffruffruff! (Moving the shark away from the play area)
Mom: My goodness. Is the shark going away for now?
Mom: (Making the character move as he talks) Good dog! That’s a very good dog!
Mom: Can they jump in the water?
Ellie: (Nodding) Yeah.
Mom: Do you think she’d like to jump off the diving board?
Ellie: (Moving closer to the boat) Yeah.
Mom: (Moving the character as if he is bouncing and jumping off the diving board) One, two, three!
Ellie: (Moving a figure around on the boat and dropping it down the stairs) This one just wants to go down the stairs.
Mom: Oh. I think this one just wants to do a backflip.
Mom: Watch me, everybody! (Moving the figure so it bounces on the diving board and lands in the water) One, two, three, woooo! Pshhh!
Mom: (Moving two figures around on the carpet) They’re swimming around in the water.
Ellie: (Jumping a figure off the boat) Don’t forget about me!
Mom: Whoa! That was a big jump!
Mom: (Moving the baby character around toward the diving board) What about the baby?
Ellie: (Reaching out and taking hold of the baby figure so her Mom can’t make the it jump off the boat) The baby can’t go in the water.
Mom: The baby can’t go in the water. Why can’t babies go in the water?
Ellie: Well, because they can’t swim.
Mom: Well, what if someone helps them swim? Can someone hold onto them tight?
Ellie: (Looking around) What about this little girl?
Ellie: (Moving the girl figure toward the baby figure) Come on baby (Moving the two figures around on the carpet).
Mom: I bet that baby’s happy to be in the water with everybody else.
Ellie: Oh, it’s the shark!
Mom: Oh no, the shark’s back! What should they do?
Ellie: (Pointing to the boat) They have to climb back on the boat!
Mom: (Moving figures back onto the boat) Oh goodness! Are they going to make it? Help, help! Help, help! I don’t’ know if I can swim that fast! (Pretending a figure is pulling the baby figure through the water) Is this little girl going to be like Tibby and save the baby? (Bringing another figure to help save the baby) I’ll help, too.
Mom: How are they going to get the baby up there? They’re swimming fast. (Letting go of figures and looking at Ellie).
Ellie: (Picking up figures and placing them on the boat) Doot, doot, doot, doot, doot!
Mom: I didn’t know we had such shark-infested waters!
In this clip, 3-year-old Ellie and her mother engage in pretend play with small figures and boats. Joining Ellie in pretend play allows her mother to model play skills, extend pretend play, help build vocabulary, and promote problem solving skills. After watching the clip and reading the script, consider the following tips for making the most of pretend play with your child.
- Make Up the Story Together.
Ellie’s mother provides a model for Ellie’s pretend play by sharing the process of making up the story with Ellie. She often asks Ellie what should happen next. For example, she asks Ellie whether a character on the boat should jump off the diving board.
- Use Expression.
Ellie’s mother also models using a different tone of voice to speak as one or more of the characters.
- Model How to Add to the Story.
Pretend play offers children the opportunity to try unfamiliar things or explore new places or ideas from a safe position. Ellie’s mother models adding to the story when she pretends that a character jumps off the diving board into the water. Ellie then adds her own change to the story when she has a character climb down the stairs to the inside of the boat.
- Be Flexible.
Sharing control of the play means that it may not always go in the direction you would like. Parents can model this important disposition to share control of the direction of the play through their flexibility in play. For instance, in the first part of this pretend play, it seems as if Ellie’s mother wants the shark to go away. However, when it becomes apparent that Ellie finds the presence of the shark important, her mother adapts her play to include the shark.
- Take Turns.
Taking turns being the leader in play helps children develop many important social skills, such as collaboration and cooperation.
- Prompt Problem Solving.
Not only does Ellie’s mother act as a partner in play by using a different voice when she speaks as a character, she also prompts Ellie to come up with solutions to problems faced by the characters or to think about consequences by switching to her normal way of speaking. In fact, in several instances, Ellie’s mother spoke to Ellie first as a character and then as herself. For instance, she has a character in the story say to Ellie, “I want to go swimming, and the shark is always around. What should we do?” Then she speaks as herself and asks, “What should they do if they want to swim in the water and the shark is swimming around here?”
- Encourage Prediction.
Learning to predict or imagine what might happen next is a valuable skill for young children. Practice in predicting may help young children to guess what will happen next in a story or experiment. Ellie has many opportunities to go through the process of making predictions as she plays with her mother. For example, her mother asks her to predict whether it will be safe for the doggie to go and swim in the water. She also asks her if the characters will make it as they swim for safety to the boat.
- Build Vocabulary.
Take advantage of opportunities to help children understand the meaning of a new vocabulary word through pretend play. For example, Ellie’s mother checks to see if Ellie knows the correct name for the diving board, and when she finds that Ellie does not know the name, she teaches it.