Make believe play at risk?

Make believe play is big with my kids.  Whenever the three of them are together, there's usually some plan, some story, they are deeply involved in.  Sometimes I make suggestions, sometimes I don't and I'm finding I'm making less as they become more adept at negotiating their own stories between them.  The house is often turned upside down while they repurpose items for their play and I'm more than okay with that. 

I had written a piece for uni about imaginative play in early childhood  (here's the link if you haven't read it).  It's pretty dry.  I found this post much more interesting reading from NAEYC.  It still talks about how research has provided more evidence of the benefits well developed play has on different areas of child development like social skills and self regulation but on emerging mathematical thinking and early mastery of literacy concepts as well.  It also provides a useful table showing the progression through the five different stages in a child's make believe play.

For me, one of the most interesting points made was that the play skills our children had previous learnt from older 'play experts' during multiage group play was now needing to be taught by teachers or learnt from behaviours modelled by teachers. That today's early childhood settings segregate children by age, leaving children interacting with play partners who are typically at the same stage in their play rather than being able to observe and imitate older playmates more expert at play.

'Explicit play instruction is often limited to the context of special education.  While children with language delays or emotional disorders are thought to benefit from play interventions, children without such delays or disorders are usually expected to develop play skills on their own. This approach, while valid in the past, can no longer be adopted if we want all young children to develop mature play. Massive changes in the culture of childhood—such as the disappearance of multiage play groups, the increase in time children spend in adult-directed activities after school, and so on—mean that, for many young children, early childhood settings are the only place where they have the opportunity to learn how to play.'

This has left me wondering, are the play skills of Australian children today not reaching these higher levels of pretend play in preschool?  Generally, our settings are different than in the US and I think most early childhood teachers scaffold pretend play in the ways described in the article but I have seen the push of academics down into early childhood here too along with children participating in more organised activities than ever before. 

Or can a child, who has participated in play with older siblings or other children regularly in settings such as playgroups and kindergym, still help to co-ordinate more mature play amongst their peers?  I guess that will still depend on the individual child. 

From my own experience, I have certainly noticed that my youngest more regularly initiates play with her older siblings now than ever before and is no longer just a passenger, she will input things to direct their play as well.  She is also the most confident and willing participant at preschool I've had so far.

What are your thoughts?  Is mature pretend play amongst our children at risk ?

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