Magic Words for Guiding Behavior: “Let’s Pretend”

In Vivian Gussin Paley’s book, A Child’s Work: The Importance of Fantasy Play, she mentions the opportunity to use fantasy play as a tool for classroom management or child guidance.    I found this interesting, and it caused me to think about that premise, the ways I have used it in the past, and the ways I could use it to smooth out difficult situations.

As she states, “Conversations with children may arise out a ‘last straw’ annoyance, in other words, or from a sense of dramatic flow.  They can come from concerns over decorum or from respect for our imaginations.  Both approaches will manage a classroom, but one seems punitive and the other brings good social discourse, communal responsibility, and may have literary merit.” (pg. 74)

This quote reminded me of when I was a first grade teacher in a school where classes needed to walk very orderly and quietly down the hallway.  Stern looks, nagging, and threatening worked from time to time, but what really made for a silent trip down the hall was asking the children to pretend we were sneaking past a sleeping giant.

Getting imagination on his side worked for my dad as well when he took my boys along on a fishing trip.  Keeping two preschoolers entertained while strapped to their car seats for a few hours of winding wilderness roads is a challenging task, even for a “seasoned professional” like Grandpa.  But he literally transformed what could have been an excruciatingly boring drive into an intergalactic adventure.  He had the boys guiding the flight from their seats and scanning the universe from their windows.  Consider the difference between this memorable adventure and the typical “Are we there yet?”  + “Don’t make me come back there!” drive.

In Paley’s book she gives an example of a young boy with a behavior problem and her own use of storytelling and dramatic play to guide the child’s behavior.  She created a narration about the problem and created a new character, “Good Player”,  and invited the child with the problem to act out Good Player’s positive behavior.  This play-acting helped reinforce the desirable behavior for the child and gave a model for the teacher to reference in the future (“…You’re pretending the wrong boy, remember?”)

While I will say that it is still important to teach behavior explicitly, we can sweeten the pot with imagination and narration. State what behavior is needed and why, but then add those magic words, “Let’s pretend……”

Photo by Alevgenex.

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Filed under Building Readers, Create, language activity, social skills

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