Imaginative and Symbolic Play
Have you noticed your child lifting his play phone to his ear and engaging in a lively conversation—very similar to what he may have witnessed while watching you? Or has your child picked up a cup and brought it to you to take an imaginary sip of tea or cocoa?
Your toddler is entering into the fantasy world of imaginative or symbolic play, a type of play that supports many different realms in development, including cognitive growth, motor skills, language acquisition, and emotional development.
This type of play is based on imitating what toddlers have seen others do—whether at home, at childcare, or even when out running errands with Mom. His world is a palette of information from which he can pick and choose and act out those activities that seem interesting.
Parents’ Roles in Symbolic Play
Toddlers are developing the skills to play cooperatively with others. You are still, by far, his favorite playmate to share his new ideas. Try to resist the urge to jump in and reciprocate with your own ideas for play. Sit back and let him take the lead. Be supportive of his ideas by describing to him what he has done. “You picked up that broom and now you are sweeping. You are such a big help for Mommy.” This type of validation is supportive of his developing sense of self—his learning that he is a person capable of coming up with ideas and doing them all by himself.
If he has the opportunity to play alongside a child who is slightly older, he’ll be fascinated by the older child’s manipulation of objects and ideas about play. This sort of scrutiny is very enriching for the younger child. By observing and learning, he can incorporate this knowledge or variations into his own toddler play.