* Please note that the words are italicized when Mom or Ellie speak as a character in their play.
Mom: (Making a character move around in front of the dollhouse) I’m very hungry. I think I need some snack. What would be a good snack? Is there any carrots around here and apple slices?
Mom: What’s a good way for her to ask her daddy? How could she ask her daddy for a snack?
Ellie: She has to say please first.
Mom: She has to say please? (Moving the girl figure to the front of the dollhouse) Okay, so you pretend to be the little girl.
Ellie picks up the girl figure.
Mom: (Moving the father figure around inside the dollhouse) Here’s her daddy. He’s in the kitchen. What can she ask him if she wants a snack?
Ellie: (Moving the girl figure toward house and then away again) Uh…
Mom moves the father figure to the front of the dollhouse.
Ellie: (Positions the girl figure so that it faces the father figure) Daddy, I want some fruit snacks and apple slices.
Mom: Apple slices? How ’bout some apple slices and carrot sticks with some crackers?
Ellie: (Jumping the girl figure up and down) Okay.
Mom: (Moving the father figure toward the dollhouse kitchen) And some milk?
Mom: (Moving the father figure around in the dollhouse kitchen) Now Daddy’s going to go in here and fix up a good snack.
Ellie: Maybe we should go camping!
Mom: Oh, camping? Okay. Well why don’t you sit down and have your snack, and let’s talk to everybody and see if they want to go camping.
Mom: Why don’t you ask everybody. Ask everybody if they want to go camping.
Ellie: (Moving the girl figure toward one of the other figures) Do you want to go camping?
Ellie: (Using a new character voice) Yes.
Ellie: Do you want to go camping?
Ellie: (Using another new character voice) Yes.
Ellie: Do you want to go camping?
Ellie: (Using yet another new character voice) Yes.
Mom: Okay, what do we need to have when we go camping?
Ellie: They have to have sleepin’ bags.
Mom: (Echoing Ellie’s words) Sleeping bags.
Ellie: And chairs.
Mom: (Echoing Ellie’s words) Chairs.
Ellie: (Picking up the cradle for emphasis) And the baby needs to have the cradle.
Mom: (Moving the cradle out from the dollhouse and patting it for emphasis) Okay, so he has a safe place to sleep?
Ellie: Yeah. (Moving a miniature stroller back and forth in front of the dollhouse) And a stroller for if they can go on a walk.
Mom: Yeah, that would be fun. What else do they need? Do they need any food?
Ellie: Yes. You can pick out the food.
Mom: I can pick out the food? Okay. (Putting her hand into the dollhouse kitchen) Is their food in the kitchen? Do they have all the food they need?
Ellie: (Nodding) Yes.
Mom: (Making the character walk around in the kitchen) Okay, so we’ll get bread and some vegetables, and we’ll get some meat and fruit and milk and juice. (Pointing) What’s this over here?
Ellie: The camping car.
Mom: (Pulling the camper closer to the dollhouse and Ellie) Oh, that’s a big camper.
Ellie: (Taking a piece off the top of the camper and pointing to it) Yeah. They have a boat to go floating in.
Mom: (Moving the father figure around inside the camper) Yeah, and Daddy’s going to get all the food in there. (Pointing) See where there’s a stove and a refrigerator? Okay. (Beginning to make the figures come to the camper and get inside)
Ellie: Everyone get …
Mom: Do they have their sleeping bags? Where do they sleep?
Ellie: Uh, they sleep out in the fire.
Mom: Out in the fire?
Ellie: Yeah. The fire’s already at the camping place.
Mom: Okay, do they sleep by the fire to keep warm?
Mom: They don’t want to sleep in the fire. That would be too hot. Right—too dangerous?
Mom: Yeah. Okay, so what do they need to load up? Do they need a couple of chairs? Can everybody help load up some things?
Mom: Everybody needs to load up the baby and the cradle. Do we need a table?
Ellie: (Holding a bed) They could take this bed, okay?
Mom: Okay, well let’s count how many people there are. (Takes figures out of camper and lines them up) Let’s see. How many people do we have? Can you count them? Is that everybody? (Placing baby figure and baby bed near other figures.) ‘Cause the baby has his bed—he has his own bed. How many people do we have? Let’s count. (Touching each figure as Ellie counts it)
Ellie: One, two, three, four.
Mom: So we need four beds, right? (Pointing to the bunk beds inside the camper) How many beds are up here?
Ellie: (Touching each figure as she counts) One, two, three, four.
Mom: Oh! Is that the same?
Ellie: (Touching each figure as she counts) One, two, three, four, five.
Mom: Oh, you’re counting the dog. But does the doggie need a bed?
Ellie: (Getting another bed from the dollhouse) Uh, this bed can be the doggie’s.
Mom: Oh, okay. So we need another bed if the doggie needs a bed.
Mom: (Picking up the father figure and one of the beds and moving the bed into the camper) Oh, I need some help hauling this bed in here.
Mom: Let’s keep that bed in there, because the dog needs a bed.
Ellie: (Placing a figure in a bed) I will get this one. Oh, I need help.
Mom: Golly, do we need that bed? We only needed five, and we’ve got five beds.
Three-year-old Ellie and her mother are playing with familiar toy family figures, a dollhouse, furniture, and a camper. By listening carefully to what Ellie says as they play, her mother discovers things that she can help Ellie understand in areas such as counting, good manners, and nutrition.
After watching the clip, consider the following tips for adding to a child’s understanding and skills in many important areas.
- Listen Carefully.
Ellie’s mother listens carefully to what Ellie says as she plays. When Ellie announces that the campers will sleep “out in the fire,” her mother is able to model a better way to express this idea, and she explains that it would be too hot to sleep in the fire.
- Teach by Rephrasing.
Ellie calls the camper a “camping car.” Her mother does not correct Ellie. Instead, she continues to talk about the vehicle and calls it a “camper.”
- Keep the Play Going.
It’s difficult to find out what children know by testing or asking them questions in artificial situations. Play is motivating to young children. Consequently, when Ellie’s mother pretends along with her, Ellie is more likely to attend to her mother’s suggestions. Notice that Ellie’s mother pretends right along with Ellie until she discovers a concept or skill that she wants to work on with Ellie. When Ellie’s mother has finished working with her, she switches right back into the pretend play. For example, Ellie’s mother takes advantage of the opportunity to work on counting skills by asking Ellie how many beds they will need to pack into the camper. She models touching and counting each object and then gives Ellie the opportunity to count. Notice also that Ellie’s mother uses these opportunities to work with Ellie for short periods of time. If the mini-lessons went on too long, Ellie would likely have lost interest in the play.