Let’s Pretend

Widget is a great little kid, fun to have around, and fun to play with.  Since we don’t watch TV much (we do enjoy Bob the Builder on PBS after Widget’s morning shower), we have a lot of time to fill during the day.  One of our favorite things to do is to pretend.

I should start this with the reminder/disclaimer that all kids develop at different rates, and their cognitive and physical skills don’t always keep pace with each other.  Widget didn’t really start talking much until he turned 2, but he began climbing stairs and ramps at the playground at 9 months and pretend play at 18 months.  At first, pretending consisted of picking up and listening to the pretend telephone just like Mommy and Daddy do for the real phone, and then it was sweeping the kitchen like Mommy or vaccuming like Daddy, and then the games got more complex.  Within a month or so, he was showing interest in putting things together and using toys as if they were other objects — like a hammer as a phone — which is another big developmental step. 

Thrilled beyond belief, I brought out the toy kitchen.  Now, our toy kitchen isn’t anything fancy.  It’s basically a wooden cabinet that my dad built for me in the 1970’s.  He painted four burners on top, cut out a larger hole next to it for a removable metal pan (and boy, is it fun for the younger toddlers to remove that pan and take a peek down into the cabinet proper) to serve as a sink, screwed four large knobs on the front and painted them like dials, and put a shelf inside.  The two shelves inside can easily serve as the stove, refrigerator, cabinet, or all three, depending on the kid’s imagination and of course the time of day.

Widget loves that little kitchen.  $12 of play food from Melissa and Doug and $8 of Wal-Mart pots and pans sealed the deal.   First, he spent hours putting the vegetables in and out of the market basket they came in.  Then he rearranged the food and pans in the cabinet endlessly.  Then, at about 19 1/2 months, he began to cook in earnest.  For months now, whenever Daddy starts dinner, Widget does too, running over to his kitchen to cut up vegetables with the little wooden knife (always on the cutting board — which amazes me no end), put them in a pot, stir, and eventually breaking away from his cooking to bring us a taste of this or a taste of that, precariously balanced on a minature slotted spoon or spatula.  The boy loves to cook — music to this feminist’s heart!

Another favorite toy for us is — get this — random lengths of PVC pipe, connected at odd angles.  Yes, this is just the regular PVC pipe that you can get at Home Depot or Lowe’s and cut to whatever lengths you need.  Believe it or not, this has been an amazing toy!  A few months ago, Widget was obsessed with our laundry hamper.  The hamper was made of light PVC pipe and held three mesh laundry bags, so that the sorting can be done in the bedroom and each load taken down and washed as a full load accumulated.  It was also on wheels.  Now, this was just an invitation for a toddler who loves to move, and run, and push, and jump — so he immediately began taking it for a spin down the hall.  Then he noticed that it could be taken apart.  Soon, I was able to get completely showered and dressed without his help, as he was totally absorbed in taking apart the laundry hamper and (not) putting it back together.  To save the hamper before it was torqued beyond all gorilla glue fixes, and to reclaim it for laundry as it was intended, we went to Home Depot and bought two 6″ lengths of PVC pipe.

To make the toy set, buy several new PVC pipes of different diameters and an assortment of connectors.  They come in all angles and shapes, and there are even some that connect pipes of different diameters.  Those are typically screw-type, however, so they’re more appropriate for kids 3 and up who have more strength to handle them.  Cut the pipes into various lengths, from 1 foot to 2 feet, and then reassemble a few of them using the connectors.  Stash them in a plastic tub or special place in the family room, and wait for the toddler to find them.  I also like to add a few paper towel rolls to the collection, since they are large enough to slide over the bigger size of PVC pipe.  Small wooden dowels that you may have left over from other projects will fit inside the smaller size.  YMMV here, but this assortment of pieces was enough to engage Widget almost immediately — and for about four months running, so far. 

The PVC pipes have the advantage of being easy, cheap, and spur imaginative play of all kinds.  I envisioned them as being building materials for boxes, towers, and maybe (much) later go-karts or wagons with wheels.  Widget, however, has opened my eyes to the possibilities.  Since there are so many angles and combinations of angles possible, the pipes can become just about anything.

One morning, we experimented with inserting the pipes inside each other and inside the paper towel rolls, the toy rings from his infant stacker, and anything else that we found nearby.  Another morning, we held one length of pipe still and slid dowels and pencils and crayons through it like a slide, saying “Wheeeeeee!”  Yet another morning brought curiousity of fitting pipes together with the connectors at different angles, just to see what would work.

And now that he’s 2, he’s using the pipes in all kinds of new ways.  One afternoon, a pair of pipes connected at a 45′ angle became a weedeater, and we trimmed the yard outside.  Another morning, it was a vaccuum, and we vacuumed the steps inside.  Some days it’s a hobby horse, and other days it’s something else entirely.  I really can’t believe how many hours we’ve spent with this simple toy.

I’ll end this post with one more funny example of pretend that surprised me.  After our playgroup yesterday, there was, not surprisingly, some mud on the floor where the kids tracked it in from outside.  This bothered Widget no end, and he pointed to it last night and said, “mess!”  Well, we were tired and didn’t want to go clean it up, so we just agreed with him and hoped he’d let it go.  Not so much.  There weren’t any brooms in the immediate vicininty, so Widget looked around, grabbed his toy drill, and set about drilling each little speck of dirt into the playroom floor as if they were screws that needed to be set on his little wooden bench.  When he was done, he looked up and proclaimed, “Ta Da!”

Ta Da indeed.  You sure keep us on our toes, Widget!


2 Responses to Let’s Pretend

  1. martstar says:

    The pvc also makes some pretty cool sounds! You can have a little choir of pvc pipes. Just look at Blue Man Group.

  2. whymommy says:

    Sure does! There’s a post forthcoming about making music … and the boomwhackers! I can’t wait to get your comments on that one … what are some of the best things that make music around the house?

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