Two little ones galloped onto my evening train, finding a spot on the pole to hold onto before the train departed. I smiled as I listened:
“Darling, where should we go today?”
“Why, to get our hair done, of course.”
“Of course. We’ll get our hair done downtown.”
Completely in character, using gestures and different voices, their dialogue continued.
Kids love to pretend. In fact, fantasy play is one of the four kinds of play kids engage in, and in my experience in early childhood, it’s the most frequented. If you’ve read Purposeful Play, by Kristine Mraz, Alison Porcelli, and Cheryl Tyler, you’re familiar with the magic that can happen when we create spaces for kids to pretend.
Mraz and Tyler talk about creating opportunities for fantasy play (along with the other kinds) throughout the day in this short video: https://blog.heinemann.com/different-types-play-fit. If you are curious about the multitude of benefits fantasy play has on cognitive and social-emotional development, check out this article on Scientific American.
We encourage fantasy play at choice time and outdoor play. We teach readers to pretend to be characters as they read. We invent stories in math when we play with numbers. When role-playing is a natural and essential part of childhood, why wouldn’t we encourage our young writers to make-believe?
When I began creating space in our curriculum for independent writing projects last year, I noticed many kindergartners naturally gravitating toward fantasy writing. The same thing happened with my current class. With just weeks left, I decided it was just the right time to dabble in teaching a pretend story unit.
I leaned on our narrative writing unit for support with planning. It was simple to modify teaching points and anchor charts from true to pretend stories. I used narrative progressions and rubrics to assess and plan for small groups.
Keeping big goals in mind, which for my group of writers was elaboration and conventions, I planned a menu of teaching points (I loved Ruth Ayres’ idea of using “magic” to write pretend stories and included it in my teaching): Fictional Narrative Teaching Points
I launched the unit with transparency: “Writers, I was walking by our writing center and couldn’t help but notice our list of kinds of writing. Look at how much it has grown this year!” I began naming each kind of writing, and thought aloud about which genres we have become experts in, and which we can still study together, inviting kids to join my thinking. I pointed to the card that said Pretend Stories and paused.
“I’m hearing lots of you say that we haven’t learned about writing pretend stories yet. It would be so much fun to study pretend writing together. Can I tell you a little secret? [I leaned in.] I don’t know a lot about pretend writing yet. I haven’t tried it very much as a writer. Do you think we can learn about it together?” Excitement buzzed around the rug.
“Let’s get started right away! When writers want to learn about writing a new genre, they can study books by their favorite authors, use all they know about similar kinds of writing, like true stories, and rely on each other as experts.”
We brought out our True Story anchor chart and revised it for Pretend Stories.
We studied Stuck, by Oliver Jeffers and Naked Mole Rat Gets Dressed, by Mo Willems as mentor texts. These worked well because they had simple problem-solution story structures, pop-out words, a variety of punctuation, and action lines in illustrations. We read many pretend stories in our library and invented stories during transitions throughout the day. A Stop-Motion center opened at choice time, which kids used to bring pretend stories to life using figurines, legos, and modeling clay.We acted out the stories we read and the stories we wrote.
Before long, superheroes, mermaids, talking animals, and monsters filled our classroom. Not everything was fantastical. Some kids used their family and friends to create stories that could really happen.
Pretend writing was not only a super engaging writing unit, it lifted the level of play during choice time, as kids began to think about setting, new roles, dialogue, and potential problems for characters. At an age where kids want to bring their dreams to life, writing became the place where anything is possible!
4 thoughts on “Let’s Pretend!”
I love the way you wove the need for fantasy play in with writing (and choice time)!
Great literature connections too.
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Thank you Stacey! Choice time and play are at the root of everything we do! 🙂 🙂
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Kelsey, I loved reading this post! I want to know more about your stop motion center- so awesome! My daughter will be going to kindergarten in September and she is always making books. She often asks my mom or me to write down the words she says, but she illustrates all the pictures too. Sometimes we type what she dictates, otherwise handwrite. I’ve been reading the Bad Guys books to my children and so my daughter has been kind of writing fan fiction- coming up with her own spin on the books. She is limited right now in her ability to write the letters and the words but she has all the ideas! Of course, she is not even in kindergarten yet but wondering if you had kids who had brilliant ideas but struggled to know how to write the words. I noticed one of your students said “unique” in her writing- I love her word choice! My son, who is going into 2nd grade, has a fabulous vocabulary but his writing is full of “fun” and “cool” because those are the words he can spell.
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Thank you Kathleen! I have a parent who makes films-so amazing-who offered to teach our class about Timelapses and Stop Motion. He even got us a tripod for our iPad, which the kids have been using at choice time. We started Stop Motion when we began making pretend stories, so that we could bring our stories to life on stop motion. We started with demo’s and guided practice in stations, then did small group movies, and now that the kids have the hang of it, they do it independently. We planned for them the same way as we do stories-thought of the who, where, what. We made setting using paper for the background, modeling clay to make the figurines, or used our own figurines. I’d love to hear your thoughts on it and ideas!
Your daughter is so sweet. I wish she could come to my school next year! 🙂 She will be at an immediate advantage because she is already identifying as a writer (props, mama!). Not many do. The big difference, i’ve heard between pre-K and K is dictation. So I’d try to wean her off of it this summer so she’s not expecting it in the fall.
I do have kids, every year, who struggle to add words. For some, it’s just so exhausting producing sounds. For others, they can produce, but they have so much to say and struggle with writing so much. This seems to be more of where your daughter is. She sounds like she has beautiful and elaborate words to go with her books.
I’ve had success with a couple of tools. One, is giving your daughter some small circle (price tag) stickers. She can stick them on parts of her picture as buttons for her to press when she’s reading it to tell about that part of the picture. She could label a letter (or several sounds to prep her for labels) on the sticker later on to remind her of the important word. You could also have her record her words and tape QR codes or use the Seesaw app so that it’s her own form of dictation, rather than relying on someone else, you know? The last thing I’d say, is if she has strong letter-sound knowledge, she could write the first sound in every word and just start there!
I love the “unique” word choice as well! Ainsley has a rich vocabulary as well. Is your son pressured (or pressures himself-perfectionist?) to spell words correctly? I think it would be way better for him to write words he isn’t sure how to spell than rely on less “sparkly” words. I always say to my perfectionists, it’s not important that you spelled it correctly, it’s important that someone can read it. Maybe he could help your daughter right some of the big important words in her book? Like on the label stickers? If he’s helping her, it will be lower-risk than writing it for himself, and be a big confidence booster. While benefiting your daughter at the same time!
They both sound like incredible kiddos! Let me know how everything goes! I’ll let you know if I think of anything else.
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