Grab your sword and tiara – it’s time to play pretend!

My sister in neighbor’s dogwood tree. Photo Courtesy: Donald Blake.

My sister in neighbor’s dogwood tree. Photo Courtesy: Donald Blake.

Grab your sword and tiara – it’s time to play pretend!

By Ruth Hinkle, Spirit & Place Festival Intern

Imagine a dark night where the stars provide the only light. Three heroes sneak out of their fortress to hunt for food while the villains are sleeping. Suddenly, a twig snaps and the villains are awake! The heroes make a run for it and gasping for breath they make it the entrance of the fortress and crash into the gigantic pile of pillows. The lights in the room are turned off and only the Christmas lights remain. The corner is the perfect spot for a pillow fort and keeps its occupants well protected from any invisible evil doers.

I was one of those kids with a crazy imagination. Absolutely nothing was impossible or unimaginable. My rocket ship, house, secret lair and construction machine doubled as the neighbors’ dogwood tree. My stuffed animals had a system of government over which dogs usually presided. I had imaginary friends so convincing that a neighbor actually believed I had a younger brother.

As the Spirit & Place team started talking about this year’s theme, Play, I started thinking about that little girl. What happened to her? From an imaginative young child, I turned into a fantasy novel reading preteen. By the time high school came to a close, I was much more grounded in the reality of my every day experiences. And fantasy didn’t have much of a place in my life.

Until a four year old and a five year old reminded me that playing pretend is the best of games. While their parents practice singing, the choir kids and I fight off villains from the safety of our mighty pillow fortress. Sometimes we are the three little pigs running from the big bad wolf. Sometimes we are a sleepy family hiding from the monstrous bears that inhabit the hallways. When we aren’t on great quests, we can be found drawing with crayons and chalk or playing hide and seek.

Now, through our research on Play, I’m learning that playing pretend is crucial for childhood development.  It helps kids develop something called executive function which helps  them make decisions, solve problems, learn language skills, and be innovative thinkers!

I’m sure five year old Ruth would not be surprised. When’s the last time you got to play pretend?

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6 thoughts on “Grab your sword and tiara – it’s time to play pretend!

  1. I play every year at LGSA/MUUSA- we may not be necessarily “imagining” giant rockets and castles and dragons, but we most certainly interact in a playful manner that operates on a very DIFFERENT set of rules and realities than most of my day-to-day life. We hoop and holler and roll in the mud and paint each other in markers and stay up till sunrise imagining how our bodies are controlled and how we can reclaim them. I enter a carnival night, like that of Halloween or other celebrations in which everything is topsy-turvy and all that was unalloyed is expected. The definition of “family” is radically expanded and the border lines are redrawn and made flexible. The playing may be more in the emotional growth and social teamwork, but rest assured every night when we create our worship within our community, we create a whole new world knowingly, suspending disbelief (or be finally free to dive into belief, depending on where one begins from), and fundamentally interacting with the environmental space and one another in ways in which we (sadly) feel unable to in other circumstances. For me, this one of the greatest times to “play pretend” turn real.

  2. Oh Ruth, you brought back great adventures of my childhood …a lot of years ago. Thank you for this uplifting & challenging piece. Am sending it on to my daughter and her 2 year old. Looking forward to PLAY.

  3. Thanks for your response, Forrest! I’m so glad to hear that you continually find a space where you can allow your play instinct to take hold!

  4. I would like this but I don’t have a wordpress account U.U but I’m on blogspot! Lot’s of great visual writing, Ruth! 8D And what you mentioned at the end about the importance of play for childhood function reminded me of a documentary I saw. Psychologists explained that children’s toys that look exactly like the real thing aren’t the best play choice, because for them to instead imagine that a stick is a sword or a pillow fort a secret hideout is actually very important for their brain development.

    The last time I played pretend? Like you, it was with a child. We played house with my Felicity doll.

    Good work!

  5. Thanks, Anya! I’ve been reading your blog actually. I saw your note on DA. And yes, I’ve read the same thing: toys that mimic real life or are used to teach kids to read don’t actually help their cognitive development. You and I certainly had fun playing with those dolls, I’m glad Felicity is still seeing some use!

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