You've probably seen your toddler pretending as she plays, feeding her doll a play cookie or flapping her arms like wings and "flying" around the room. These are examples of symbolic play, the type of play your toddler uses to pretend an object is something else. Children begin to engage in symbolic play during their second year, according to Scholastic Teachers, and you can help facilitate that play by providing your little one with materials that prompt some imaginative thinking.
1. A Clear Purpose
Your young toddler understands that objects have specific functions, and she will often imitate the appropriate ways to use them, such as holding a toy telephone to her ear or using a brush in her hair. Providing toys that have a clear purpose, such as play dishes and food, a toy toolbox or a pretend doctor's kit, will help your toddler act out specific scenarios. She will use her imagination to reenact events based on her own memories and experiences, such as cooking dinner for you or giving her teddy bear a check-up.
2. Dress Up
Pretending to be someone else is one way your toddler practices using spoken language as she role-plays and begins to further understand her own experiences. Children often pretend to be the people they know, according to Education.com, so provide costumes and dress-up clothes to allow her to play out those familiar roles. She might enjoy putting on your shoes and carrying your purse and pretending to be "mommy." Let her put on an apron and give her a chef's hat while she pretends to cook for you. Giver her a straw hat and some overalls and encourage her to pretend to be a farmer while she helps in the garden or feeds the animals.
3. Around the House
Sometimes the best props for symbolic play are not expensive toys, but everyday objects you find in your home. A large empty box can become many things with some imagination and some decoration, such as a rocket ship, a race car or a clubhouse. Turn a few laundry baskets upside down to become cages for the stuffed animals in your "zoo." Clear a space to use as a "stage," and have your toddler pretend to be a singer using a large wooden spoon as a microphone. Watch your toddler to see how she uses objects, and follow her lead as she pretends with them.
4. Books and Outings
Your toddler will get the ideas for her symbolic play from the experiences she has, according to Education.com. Take her on outings and read a wide variety of books to give her the rich vocabulary and background knowledge she needs to be able to act out different scenarios. After visiting an aquarium, your toddler might pretend to swim with sea creatures. A book about space could encourage your little one to "blast off" in her rocket ship. Watch some construction equipment at work, and then encourage your toddler to pretend to build with her own blocks.