The best thing about my job is being continuously surprised by children’s development 
which seems to sometimes happen overnight. Their brains are taking in and processing 
information at rapid speeds during the day which is being further consolidated during 
sleep - supporting the need for children(and adults) to get good sleep. As your 
children’s developmental milestones occur, it is our amazing privilege to be present, to 
support, and to nurture their growth. Here’s an example of how they show what they 
know!

One day this week, I walked into a classroom where I was delightfully greeted with 
smiles and hellos by the children and teachers. One of the young students came up to 
me and said he had a gift for me. He reached into his jacket pocket and held out his 
fist. As I knelt down, I held out my hand, and he said, “Here’s a Thomas for you.” He 
opened his fist and dropped a pretend Thomas the Tank Engine in my right hand. I 
smiled and thanked him and asked if I could play with Thomas the train. He said, 
"yes" and told me he had another gift for me. I told him I had two hands and could hold a 
gift in the other hand. I held out my left palm, and he reached into his pocket. He pulled 
his fist out again and handed me what he said was another train. Several other children 
were observing and began handing out pretend gifts, too. They seemed to really enjoy 
the power of pretend play as they laughed, smiled, and could not wait to show me the 
pretend items they had in their hands.

Photo by Jeffery Pomranka

In response, I then handed out pretend hearts with smiles in them, and the children smiled as they received my expression of gratitude and caring in the form of a pretend gift. I was mirroring their communication, and in those moments we shared common language - a language through play. In this exchange, they taught me that just when I think I know how spontaneous they are, children will surprise me over and over again. They showed me that they are beginning to understand the use of pretend and symbolic play to communicate, to express feelings, and to receive feelings. 

Pretend and symbolic play, not to be confused with fantasy and imaginary play, are 
early forms of higher order thinking, and it is wonderful to see this developing in children 
as it is one of the essential cognitive components in the process of learning to read. If 
you want to know more, please e-mail me at swilhelms@uccc.org.

Post by Sarah Wilhelms, MSW, LCSW

Posted
AuthorSteph Smith
CategoriesParenting