Halloween and Blurring the Line Between Real and Pretend

What does Halloween have to do with children’s play, and PictureBook Plays?   As adults “take over” the American version of a holiday with origins in pagan rites and religious observances, how do we make sense of it for young children?  Mildren Parton, in 1932, gave the early childhood field one of the first definitions of play.  She categorized social play into six stages.  In the second stage, roughly set during the same stage as Piaget’s preoperational stage of development (two to seven years), we observe children transfer objects into symbols, things that begin to represent something else.  For example, a block becomes a telephone, a stick becomes a sword and actions and pantomime props exist to create a richer play base.   This begins to coincide with the separation of fantasy and reality.

The concept that is difficult for adults to understand, and remember since we did it once, is that when that block becomes a phone, it is no longer a block!  It is a phone.   When children see others dressed as something else for Halloween, when we ask them to dress up, or they volunteer to “be” a superhero, a ladybug, a bus; what adults need to understand is that the child “IS” that thing.   The line between real and pretend is blurred during these years; and can cause children inner confusion and stress (sometimes what we think is sugar overload may just be “I’m tired of being a bus – a real bus”!)

Dramatic play work in the classroom can give young children the opportunity to try out “BE-ing” other things.  Depending upon the picture book chosen, a child can try being an animal, an adult, or even a tree or a hat.  But, they know it’s contained, with the likelihood of being joyful, because PictureBook Plays is temporary, it’s voluntary, and it’s safe.

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