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Is daycare helping my daughter's social skills?
Q: I've had my daughter in day care for almost a year now—Christine is a happy, normal, 31-month-old child. When she comes home from school, she loves to play with her Elmo, and all her other babies. As she plays with them, she tells them, “Head down, blanket ready.” I know from your article on pretend play that she must be learning that from school because she acts like a teacher. Instead of playing with her tea set like she used to, she tells the dolls to be nice and talks to them in a firm voice. Is this helping her with social skills?
Diana
A: I’m glad to hear you read about pretend play in the article section of this web site. I hope you found it helpful. As I mentioned in the article, children make sense of their world by imitating what they see, and your daughter is doing just that. She is role-playing, pretending to be the day care teacher and acting out something familiar from her daily life. Her imagination is busily engaged as she internalizes her everyday experiences and incorporates them into her play. She might not be interested in playing with her tea set right now because she might have played with one in her day care centre earlier in the day. That doesn’t mean she’s not interested in it anymore. She’s just moving along in her play development, adding new elements and dimensions as they unfold to her, building depth and breadth to her play scenarios. I’m sure she’ll play with her tea set again, but maybe in a more elaborate way. Your daughter is also gaining social skills when she interacts with other children in her day care centre and in her neighborhood. As her social experiences expand, so will her pretend play.

When you noticed that your daughter added something new to her play—even the way she used her voice—it shows you have been a keen observer of her at play. That is so important, because observation of children is the key to understanding them. By observing how your daughter plays and what she pretends, you’re learning about her world. You’re also gaining a better understanding of what she’s thinking and how she’s processing what she’s experiencing.

Here’s something to try: the next time you observe your daughter playing “teacher,” join in at an appropriate time with a related play-theme. You might pretend to be the “mummy of one of the children” in her class and ask how things are going today for your pretend child who is in the class. Or, you could pretend to be one of the “other teachers” and talk about what activities the “children” could do next. You could even invite your daughter, “the teacher,” to have some tea with you while the children in her class take a nap. The opportunities for pretend play are endless and the benefits are plentiful!
Kathleen Alfano Ph.D. Director of Child Research at Fisher-Price®