- A Case for Mature Pretend Play
The choice between a play-based preschool and academic preschool can be agonizing for any parent. Ultimately, preschool should be a place where a love for learning is cultivated and children are given experiences to enhance their executive functioning skills (i.e. self control and attention skills). Executive functions is a psychological term used to describe the cognitive process that is involved in planning and monitoring what we attend to and what we do (“execute”) with this input.
Recently, the New York Times printed an article highlighting an empirically based preschool and kindergarten program, Tools of the Mind. One of the fundamental aspects of the Tools of the Mind program is its use of mature pretend play to develop self-regulation abilities while also preparing children academically for school.
“The ultimate goal of Tools of the Mind is not emotional or physical self-regulation; it is cognitive self-regulation — not the ability to avoid grabbing a toy from the kid next to you (though that’s an important first step), but the much more subtle ability to avoid falling for a deceptively attractive wrong answer on a test or to concentrate on an arduous mental task.”
So what is mature pretend play?
Children participating in Tools of the Mind programs are asked to create a play plan at the start of each day. Children decide what characters they would like to play and what they would like to do. They record their plan by drawing a picture of themselves doing the action and then underneath they write “I am going to (action)” or draw squiggly lines to indicate each word. These play plans are designed to motivate children to become fully absorbed in the activity. This intense play work also allows children to practice using their attention systems. Most importantly, this mature pretend play help children take responsibility for their learning and reinforce habits of self-control.