Symbolic Play 

“In symbolic play, young children advance upon their cognitions about people, objects and actions and in this way, construct increasingly sophisticated representations of the world.” –  M.H. Bornstein 

Symbolic play usually begins around the age of two when children begin to develop the ability to create and mentally work with symbols. Symbolic play consists of using everyday objects to represent something different, recreating real-life situations, for example, using a banana as a telephone. In our school, we use open-ended materials that can serve multiple functions, limited only to the imagination of the child.

Utilizing their imagination and creativity, the children mentally represented a character, that in this case was a pirate, in search of adventure. Through this type of mental representation, we were able to observe how they transformed one object into another, such as a cardboard cylinder that became a spyglass or the blue blocks that became a boat. While engaging in this type of symbolic play, the children were able to stimulate their creativity, imagination, and language, as they created dialogues and story lines that helped them to communicate and socialize with their friends around them, improving different types of situations.

This type of play can be strengthened and made more complex throughout development. It can also be strengthened through consistent invitations relevant to this type of activity since the children gain an increasing ability to add deeper and more relevant knowledge and experiences as they grow.


Benefits that we find in symbolic play:

 * Encourages imagination and creativity

 * Increases the learning of new behaviors

 * Promotes the acquisition of social skills

 * Enables the acquisition of new vocabulary

 * Facilitates the knowledge of their own physical capabilities, developing their psychomotor skills and body control

 * Facilitates the knowledge of their environment and the operation of things

 * Promotes self-esteem and self-control, providing a sense of self-confidence

 * Helps structure thinking


Pirate Roles: K. – H. – O.::

The children were completely immersed in their characters, representing pirates in search of a treasure. O. seemed to be the captain of the ship, leading the direction of their boat and shouting “Ahoy matey, I’m going in search of a treasure!” All three took the cylinders, using them as spy glasses, and searching for their longed-for treasure.  At one point, K. and H. got off the boat by shifting to the side and grabbing a log from the ground claiming that it was “a treasure”. H. then yelled to O., “We found a treasure!” They picked it up and returned with it to their ship to continue on with their adventures.

Building a Pirate Ship:

H.: While interacting with the blocks, she began by taking only three of them and stacking them one on top of the other. She then stopped to observe how her friends were working together to stack them. Once they had stopped, she took over some blocks and began to add more to theirs, declaring that she needed a flag. She also added more blocks and details to the boat, integrating the cardboard cone to serve as a spyglass, placing it next to the flag. While drawing, she sketched her design and began to add details to the boat, “The circle is under this square. The other circle is this one”. 

She explained each detail to Ms. Diana as she drew. She then added levels, paying close attention to the curve that she drew, recreating it with a curved block. Around her drawing, she made large lines, declaring that they were the roof of the ship. Throughout the process, we were able to observe how attentive she was to detail when making lines, representing specific objects through her drawing.

A.: While interacting with the blocks, she worked with a group of friends to build. One by one, the other children left, but she remained to finish it. The first thing that she did was enclose the structure, making sure each side of the block touched another block, developing a circular shape in the process. She then added a few more blocks and a flag at the top. She stood to observe and analyze her boat. She then pretended to jump from the boat to go look for treasure!

Contributing Researchers: Diana Hurtado, Claudia Gomez, Chelsie Braun

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