Now that little Miss G (16 months) has started to play more independently, I like to observe how she plays and wait for her to proactively engage me in her play. When she does, I try to extend her interest and create a fun learning activity around it.
In this way, I practise child-initiated play, which supports little ones in developing and being in control of their play ideas. Without too much and unnecessary adult intervention, children are empowered to be creative and curious in the way they explore and play. More benefits about child-led learning on Gen Mindful.
So an opportunity to develop a play interest arose one day after I read Little Miss G the Buckley Big Monster book, which was about Buckley Big the hungry protagonist raiding the fridge at night.
Little Miss G had tottered to her toy kitchen and come back with a cookie to feed the Buckley Big Monster in the book. Seeing that she was interested to play a game of pretend feed, I sprang into action to gather some sensory items she could use to feed the monster as well as some art and craft materials to create a Buckley Big Monster likeness in real life.
Monster Feeding Imaginative Play Setup
To make the monsters, I drew Buckley Big (and his brother Simon Big) on paper plates and got little Miss G to help me colour their features with markers. With a penknife, I cut out semi-circles ("the mouths") so we could push pretend food toys into the monsters' mouths.
For pretend food, I wanted to introduce an array of sensory items and introduce a more open-ended sort of play. I used colourful pom pom balls and two bead necklaces. I would also recommend using rainbow rice, beans and grains for this activity.
I asked little Miss G to imagine that she was feeding an apple to the monster when she held up a red pom pom ball, and noodles when she used a gold bead necklace. I don't think she could make the connection, but it's a start. With older children, they would be able to use their imaginations more in thinking up make-believe foods.
Through this activity, I'm exposing little Miss G early to the concept of "symbolic thinking" whereby one object (like a toy banana) could stand in for a real-life object (like a phone, which explains why many kids hold toys up to their ears pretending those are phones!). "Symbolic thinking" typically develops around 24 months.
At this age, I recognise that my young toddler needs the pretend food to look more or less like its real-life counterpart (whereas older kids like a 3-year-old would have richer imagination to help close the gap between what's real and pretend). After using abstract sensory items to feed the monsters, we used the more realistic-looking Melissa and Doug food sets.
Benefits of Pretend Feeding
- Builds empathy and caring attitudes towards others. When your little one re-enacts feeding experiences with toys, she takes on a different role and could learn to see things through a new perspective (e.g. the caregiver's perspective)
- Helps children experiment and understand social roles of life (e.g. Mummy, Daddy, teacher, babysitter)
- Regulates emotions. During pretend play, children can engage in unrestrained self-expression and this helps them learn to process their feelings.
- Fosters a sense of control and leadership. Children don't often have the autonomy (and shouldn't have complete autonomy) over their lives so pretend play allows them to "act the adult" in a safe environment
- Develops fine motor skills through using of spoon to shovel food, then balancing it delicately to the mouth to feed etc
- Develops vocabulary and language skills by having conversations during pretend feeding
To follow Gwen's play adventures, check out @miraculove_sg (Instagram) or A Toddler Activity A Day Facebook Group.
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Hi! I am Yunnie. I am the newly minted mama to a little baby girl and a mum friend to everyone on this special (and many times scary) journey of motherhood. Also a graduated bride with a penchant for weddings.