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?