Yesterday morning Yummy informed me that she was going to be a farmer when she grows up, just like Daddy, except a Horse Farmer.  I was weeding between our little trees, sweating away in the dirt, but I thought it was as good a time as any to get some dramatic play in.  Children are such naturals at drama -pretend play is a second language to them.  I try to encourage that gift whenever possible, using Yummy's interests to spark imaginative play.  

Using Dialogue to Introduce a Story
So I mentioned to Yummy that we already have two big black horses on our farm (gesturing to our dog, Katie, and our neighbours', Jesse, who comes to visit daily).  I told her that we have a beautiful mare and a handsome stallion to take care of, explaining what girl and boy horses are called.  Without question, Yummy jumped right into the story, offering the "horses" a handful of grass to enjoy.  
I love Sharifa Oppenheimer's idea that it isn't necessary for adults to be directly involved in the imaginative play.  
Sometimes what is needed most from us is an idea...After we have dropped the suggestion, then it is our children's choice what to do with it.  It may be ignored completely, or taken into the game and transformed, or it may spark a whole new idea of their own.  

Although it can be helpful, occasionally, to offer an idea for play, usually it is detrimental for us to bring our adult energy into our children's games.  Our adult consciousness can disturb and distract our children's more mobile and fluid imagination.  The best way we can join them in their play when invited is to say, "I will be the cook (or whatever you happen to be doing), and what will you be?"

-Sharifa Oppenheimer, Heaven on Earth: A Handbook for Parents of Young Children
To tell the truth, I don't really enjoy it very much and I feel a bit awkward trying to play pretend.  I often take Sharifa's suggestion of using my actual work as a cover for playing pretend.  Today I was the farm-hand picking hay for the horses as I weeded.  
Simple Ideas for Bringing Life to the Story
Yummy didn't need much help anyway, once the initial idea was set.  She began sprinkling grass over the dogs, to "style them up" for a horse show where she would show how healthy and beautiful her horses were.  The "horses" were a bit wild and needed to be tamed with the offer of carrot and apple shaped dog treats (because we all know that horses love apples and carrots).  I got out the dog brush so Yummy could clean the "horses" (a good opportunity for someone to get the winter fur off the dogs!), and she poured many buckets of fresh water for her animals from the garden hose.  Yummy also decided to be a horse herself, after a while - a white princess pony (whatever that is).  

Taking the Theme Further
The idea of horse shows and farming extended to her Quiet Time when she asked for a couple toy horses to play with during her hour of rest, and later she and Dooter wandered the yard calling for the wild "horses" to come back to the house.  Dooter had no idea what was going on but loves being involved in his big sister's games.  As I tucked her in for bed she made me promise that she could use the dog brush to style her horses again tomorrow.  A simple idea tossed out from the weedy dirt became a fun and in-depth role-playing game that lasted an entire day and beyond.  
Looking for Dramatic Inspiration
Not every child is interested in horses, but this simple idea of taking an interest or moment and making it into a story with dramatic dialogue and play is something you can do countless times throughout the day.  Pretending to be cooks in a restaurant while preparing a meal, going on an exciting mountain adventure when you climb a hill, or swimming with whales at bath time -children love the added thrill of drama!  

I'd love to hear your ideas for simple dramatic play in the comments!

This activity uses these elements of drama:
  1. Theme:  exploring a central idea
  2. Dialogue: a story is narrated and taken forward through dialogue

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