The incredible value of pretend play

The value of pretend play is widely studied in Child Development–my major at UT Dallas–today. In fact, the chapter I’m currently studying in one of my Psych classes singles out many of the valuable aspects of pretend play. Not only does pretend play often mimic important adult interactions in things like work, school, and family life, but it also helps children develop social skills: compromising, sharing meaning with another person, displaying and understanding their own feelings as well as the feelings of others. One of the most picture perfect examples I saw of this recently was Makarios kids playing a game of “Fake JC,” which I’ll talk about later.

Many valuable aspects of pretend play

Peter Gray often discusses valuable aspects of play itself, such as the value in building mental rules which are self-chosen and self-directed. An important aspect of this type of high quality (excellent developmental results) play is that players are free to quit at any time. This means that players must keep each other happy and negotiate rules constantly in order to keep their companions playing with them. He also cites that play is always structured by kids themselves rather than by adults, noting that children may learn a lot more about themselves and their peers in a game of pickup basketball than in a game that is run and regulated by adults.

Pretend play can take many forms. Sometimes it takes the form of using figurines to represent oneself, such as moving and voicing stuffed animals or dolls to act out scenarios. Sometimes it’s cars and racing to see who can go the fastest, and dealing with the emotions of those who don’t win, whether that means regulating your own emotions or consoling a friend who lost the race. It can even be building a Lego town and determining what’s necessary: police officer, construction worker, and Batman? Just kidding, that’s only in the Lego movie.

Other times, pretend play takes the form of role-taking. For example, Ziva and Evelyn often play “babies” at school, where one of them pretends to be a baby and the other pretends to be the caretaker. Where is the value in this? Well, Ziva has a baby sister at home and enjoys mimicking the caretaking responsibilities that she has observed, as well as experiencing times to pretend she is the baby and working through emotions from that perspective. Zaden and Torsten enjoy pretending to be the “bad guys” in any given show or movie, such as Joker from Batman or Darth Vader from Star Wars. This play allows them to have a healthy outlet for their admiration of these villains who are admittedly very cool and interesting, while still allowing them to step back into their own shoes and be a nice kid and a good friend.

One of my very favorite examples of pretend play took place recently at Makarios Community School.

Avery, who is eight, was leading some of the younger kids in a game of “Fake JC.” They asked me to join and I was honestly shocked at how perfectly they were modeling the system of Judicial Committee. They had three committee members, chairs for the plaintiff and defendant on the same sides of the room JC uses, one of the committee members taking notes, and they called those who had been written up to sit and wait in the common room to be called in. They were making up random problems, like breaking a window, roughhousing on the quiet side, and more, and then coming up with realistic solutions and consequences for those problems. The youngest kids who sometimes don’t understand what’s happening in real JC understood everything perfectly. It was clear to see some of the ways these kids were learning from their game of “Fake JC:” understanding the logistics of where to sit and when to speak in JC, knowing what is going on the whole time, and how to collaborate for real solutions to problems in the community. The game could have even eased the nerves that kids sometimes feel when being called into JC. It’s impossible to know all of the benefits this pretend play was responsible for, but it’s clear to see that they were numerous.

Next time somebody asks me, “How will they learn if they just play with their friends all day?” I’ll have another great example as to why playing with their friends all day is how they are learning.

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Abraham Maslow, known to his friends as Abe, was a Russian-Jewish boy born in 1908. During his childhood in New York City, he had a lofty dream to change the world. That idea began to take root when Abe attended the University of Wisconsin. He chose to study psychology, simply because it was socially practical and useful. His degree led him to a position as a professor of psychology at Brooklyn College.

Abe felt that each of the major theories of psychology was valid in its points, but he believed they were still missing something. So he combined them all and developed Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs. But his work still wasn’t complete. During World War II, he analyzed the traits of prosperous and emotionally healthy individuals, which he later coined as self-actualization. Abe genuinely believed that the highest functioning individuals were ordinary people that had all of their basic needs met, and therefore could focus on greater thoughts, ideas, joys, and fulfillments.

By 1954, Abe published the book that spiraled him into fame, Motivation and Personality. Up until this point, most of the psychological research was negative, and his work was all about positive perspectives.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

Maslow’s Hierarchy is a simple pyramid with five levels, which begins with physiological needs on the bottom level and progresses to more psychological needs with each superior level. He claims that you cannot move to the next level without being fulfilled at the current stage.

1. Physiological Needs. Everyone requires basic food to remain healthy, enough water to stay hydrated, and adequate sleep to function well. If these needs are unmet, a person will devote all of their energy to satisfying these requirements.

2. Safety. Assurance that you will have a roof over your head, a job that provides enough money, a healthy body, and a family is key components of the safety level. These are predictable, comfortable, and reassuring.

3. Love and Belonging. After our physiological and safety needs are met, humans require intimate relationships. This includes love from family members and sexual intimacy with a spouse, but also authentic friendships. Without these essential components, a person feels worthless, lonely, and invaluable.

4. Esteem. Self-esteem and self-confidence come from higher levels of achievement combined with respect from others. I experienced first-hand in high school how the respect and support of my parents and the school staff gave me courage and confidence to reach higher and to achieve great things.

5. Self-Actualization. The final stage and the one Abe encourages us all to strive towards is self-actualization. Once all other levels are met, we are able to better problem solve and be creative. We can better accept facts and act without prejudice towards others. We can accept our self for who we are and can appreciate life to the fullest. Self-actualizing people are independent, honest, aware of others, more objective, creative, and original. The Democratic environment and the Judicial Committee process at Makarios Community School promote and support self-actualization through everyday activities that require problem-solving and awareness of others.

Psychologists agree that self-actualizing people:

  • Have an accurate perception of reality.
  • Admit their mistakes and failures.
  • Find it easy to be spontaneous.
  • Are better able to “major on the majors” and “minor on the minors”.
  • Don’t mind being alone.
  • Aren’t easily swayed by cultural fads or unanimity of a crowd.
  • Tend to be more empathetic, kind, and caring toward others.
  • Value and respect all individuals.
  • Have few yet deeper friendships.

Better understand how things are interconnected, and therefore are more creativeWrap that all up into one person and bam — that’s the kind of kid you want to raise!

Why you should push your kids up the pyramid?

We no longer live in a society where we are battling to survive plagues, maintain crops through a drought, barter my chickens for your grain, or keep our roof from caving in. People of the modern world generally have full bellies, a large roof over their head, and a decent social life.

Maslow stated, “I think of the self-actualizing man not as an ordinary man with something added, but rather as the ordinary man with nothing taken away.” We can provide our ordinary kids with all of their basic needs so that they can do extraordinary things in our world.

Obviously, you should feed, clothe, bathe, and house your children in such a way that they feel safe and secure. But also love them deeply for who they are. Support their blooming personalities and their instincts through the choices they make (even if it means they wear stripes and plaid together).

Affirm their character. Remind your children they are valuable, smart, worthy, unique, courageous, adventurous, etc. It can be as simple as “I’m proud of you for putting away your clothes before choosing to Minecraft” or as complex as “I admire how you are always brave. It’s not easy to stand up to the bully who is making fun of your friend.”

Challenge them mentally. Ask your children why they do what they do. “Why do you like to pack your own lunch?” “Why do you like to swing more than slide?” “Why do you like to collect Pokémon cards and what do you gain from playing the game?

Encourage their friendships. We know that some friends come and go while others last for a lifetime. And none of us would be the person we are today without friends to walk the road with us. Foster your kid’s friendships as if they were your own. That may include hosting a sleepover for teenage girls and GI Joe birthday parties for rowdy boys.

When you fulfill all of the basic needs, your child is free to rise. Cover levels one through four so you can push your child upwards to the top tier. Then they can dream about changing the world, and then actually do it.

Learn more about how a democratic free school like Makarios Community School provides a self-directed learning environment for your child(ren) to find their passions and the freedom to pursue their dreams.

Source : Makarios community school

According to a 2015 Bloomberg survey of job recruiters, these are the “less common, more desired” traits that today’s recruiters are looking for in job candidates. Of course, these traits are less common in a society where you’re taught for thirteen years in a top-down approach with limited communication, under the leadership of an adult one hundred percent of the time, doing what you’re told and only what you’re told. In this system, correct answers are even marked wrong if a student uses an alternative method to find it. Where is there room to grow skills like communication, leadership and creative problem-solving in such an environment?

Fortunately, democratic schools offer an alternative.

In regards to creative problem-solving, democratic school students are afforded daily opportunities for informally crafting solutions to various real life problems. In the formal settings of Judicial Committee and School Meeting, students have the opportunity to responsibly participate in problem-solving at the community level.

During Judicial Committee (JC), students hear both sides of conflicts and rule infractions, and then collaborate to come up with solutions and reparations for those actions. For example, when a student continues to disrupt assembly despite gentle reminders to listen, JC may decide that the student should sit next to a mentor at the assembly for the rest of the week/month to minimize distraction. The purpose would be to help the student build the habit of being quiet and attentive during assembly. For a student who provokes others, however, JC would need to strategize towards a more creative solution. They might decide that, because the student has been contributing negativity to the school, they should practice an activity that contributes positively to the community. For instance, shoveling and moving a bucket of rocks in the play area to help make the play space safer for all the students. The cases that students resolve during JC rarely ever have cookie-cutter solutions. Rather, students work on their problem-solving skills to craft creative solutions that help solve problems rather than merely being punitive towards peers and staff.

Like JC, School Meeting is a space where students participate in developing unique solutions to unique problems.

It is the place where the school management manual is modified, as needed, and students gain experience in setting and enforcing school policy. Any member of the community may add an issue to the agenda, and the School Meeting (which is optional but always well attended) discusses the issues and offers ideas on possible solutions. For example, at a recent School Meeting, a student brought up the issue of littering. She had picked the “yard” chore which should have been simple; putting away a few toys that were left out. However, the chore was a much larger task than intended when the student discovered trash and wrappers all over the school yard. The management manual has an existing “clean up after yourself” rule, so the School Meeting had to come up with creative solutions so that students would be motivated to pick up their trash when they eat outside. They toyed with the idea of a sign-out sheet in order to bring items outside but decided against it, then decided on purchasing two large outdoor trash bins to put on both sides of the yard to make cleaning up after oneself easier. It was also decided that littering in the yard would result in a $1 fine after the third offense.

“When will I ever use this in real life?”

The problem-solving, communication and leadership skills that students in democratic schools are learning are priceless and simply not possible in traditional education settings. One thing I and many others students constantly asked during my years at public school was, “When will I ever use this in real life?” For democratically schooled students, the problems they’re solving are real life. They learn real life skills by living their real lives in a safe and supportive environment

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Nowadays, it is observed that the youth/teens are facing troubles and their troubles are increasing. A big shift the attitude and behavior of youth are observed and numerous factors are identified as the reason for this shift. The teens are facing issues like anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, etc. Moreover, they are also involved in substance abuse and addiction computers and internet. It has also been observed that the children are suffering from low self-esteem, life adjustment problem and social challenges. To add to their misery, the teens also have to face family conflicts, sexual abuse, grief and loss, and academic frustrations. All these issues are way too much for a teen to handle and they are not mature to face all or some of this alone. As the teens are being troubled in their day to day life, it is being difficult for the society to accept such attitude and apart from all this, it is not beneficial for the health and future of the youth.

Such issues are deemed to be big issues of the society and need to be solved at earliest. In order to overcome these issues, it is necessary for the communities to develop programs that can help these adolescents. There are different methods to help the youth come out of these issues but Wilderness Therapy Programs are considered to be the best. Wilderness Therapy Programs have played a great role in helping youth to solve their issues and lead a normal and peaceful life. The Wilderness programs have increased over the past few years because the wilderness therapy helps in bringing peace to life. Wilderness therapy and therapeutic wilderness programs, both are included in wilderness programs which make the program more effective. Wilderness Program for Troubled Youths and wilderness programs for troubled teens are different because the activities involved in helping troubled teens and youth are different depending on their age. The things that can help out the troubled teen/youth are mentioned below.

The Wilderness Environment

The wilderness environment is not similar to the daily routine environment. It has nothing that a normal environment must have. The reason for such an environment is that it is believed the normal day to day routine to humankind is becoming more hectic and stressful, therefore, the first thing to stop all the stress is to change the environment. The normal metropolitan life with a continuous check and balance on the lives of others is the root cause of every stress or problem that a youth or a teen faces.

In order to overcome such issues, the wilderness therapy programs change the environment of the troubled teens and youth. The best place to take the troubled teens and youth are dense forests with the verdant landscape. Such places are peaceful and quiet which is helpful for the children as the most important thing they need in their life is peace.

The Therapist

In order to help troubled teen or /and youth, it is very important to give special attention to all the clients. One of the main reasons of having trouble in the daily lives of teen and youth is that they do not get proper attention which leads them to do acts that are helpful in gaining the attention of others. Not only this, in order to seek attention, their behavior towards others changes. A therapist deals with the children that are in trouble. Although the teens and youths are in a form of a group still every patient gets an individual attention from the therapist. It is done because every individual teen or youth have a different background and the reason that has led to constant issues in their lives are different. To every teen and youth, the therapist guide to be influenced by the strength of wilderness. In addition to it, clinical services are also provided to provide help for teens and youths.

The Field Staff

In order to aid and assist the teens and youths, it is crucial to ensure that they are properly guided so that they overcome e the issues they are facing in their normal day to day life. Field staff is made available in the wilderness therapy program to guide them in a better way about the rituals that must be performed in order to have peace in their lives. The field staff teaches them different skills which help in keeping the teens and youth busy. It also makes the mind more active which helps in reducing the negativities from the mind. The daily rituals are mandatory as it helps in developing a lot of physical and mental potential in the clients. The daily rituals help in keeping active the mind and body which strengthens the character of an individual to overcome the barriers to routine life. The field staff also guides the youth and teens about self-care and how helpful it can be for them.

The Peer Group

Loneliness also leads to many issues that lead a child to depression and other problems that affect their mental health. In order to have a healthy mind, it is important to have a good understanding of others. One should be more socially active rather than be alone. The peer group facilities provided in the wilderness therapy programs is useful for the teens and youths to make them socially active. The peer groups help in developing the power itself and allow the individuals to develop new friendships. By interacting, individuals share their stories and many of them understand each other better as they have more or less similar stories. In this way, they form a bond can guide and help each other to make sure that the struggle faced by them comes to an end. In groups, the teens and youth learn more about others and their behavior, which teaches them how to move in the society and what type of actions, are acceptable.

The Quality of the Relationships

The wilderness therapy programs help in developing a relationship not only between the clients but also between the client and the staff. It is important to be aware of the issues of a teen so that the staff can help them properly. Usually, the organizations that are providing assistance or programs to wilderness therapy has an exceptionally high number of staff. It is usually practiced so that the special attention is given to all the clients. Spending more time with the clients will help the staff in making a good bond with them and also develop a quality relationship. The more the staff is able to understand the client, the easier it is for them to help the client.

Immersion in Self-Study

The clients are given wilderness therapy to become strong and be able to face the difficulties in life. In order to help them in their fight, an environment of wilderness is provided. At times, wilderness programs are not sufficient as the clients have more wilderness within themselves. In order to help the teens and youth to overcome the battle, they face every day, academic and individual assignments are created that are only made for a particular client based on the experiences of the client. The on-going self-study is enhanced through this approach and the client is able to lead a normal life once again.


The shared experience that a client gains from other individuals helps them in developing themselves. All the clients have more or less similar background and it becomes easier for them to develop an understanding of others. By developing a proper understanding with other individuals, the clients enhances their skills to develop an understanding of people in their daily routine life. In order for an adolescent to be in a stable mental state, they must develop good relations at home with their parents and siblings.

You can learn more about your problems with some professionals at Blue Ridge Wilderness.

We often forget that we are nature. Nature is not something separate from us. So when we say that we have lost our connection to nature, we’ve lost our connection to ourselves.

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