My sisters and I often engaged in imaginative play when we were growing up. We came up with various pretend situations, from trains taking us out West to cooking a pretend family dinner. Since attending church was a family practice, we would also pretend to serve communion and perform weddings. All aspects of our lives – from the mundane to the spiritual – became part of our playtime.
Bluey, a popular preschool TV show about an Australian cartoon puppy and her family, showcases imaginative play in almost every episode. As Bluey and her friends and family pretend, the children learn about managing relationships, positive values, and paying attention to the world around them. Caregivers and program leaders can follow Bluey’s lead by using imagination and playfulness to explore spiritual practices and themes.
Parent-Initiated Spiritual Play: Inspired by Bluey’s parents, create your own pretend play scenarios to explore with children. Select favorite spiritual stories and objects to use as pretend prompts. For example, pretend you are a character like the panda, Stillwater, from Jon Muth’s Zen Shorts or invite a child to pretend they are teaching their stuffed animals how to use a finger labyrinth. Once you have created the framework, allow the child to take the lead, utilizing their creativity and interests to guide the rest of the playtime.
Emotional Self-Awareness: Bluey and Bingo experience a range of emotions: anger, disappointment, frustration, excitement, delight, joy. While watching an episode, name aloud the emotions you see. (Bingo is frustrated that Bluey won’t let her have a turn. Lucky is excited to play shadow island.) Describe how you know what emotion the character is feeling. (I can see a little frown on Bingo’s face when she’s frustrated. Lucky smiles and squeals when he’s excited.) Invite children to make a face or noise that shows how they look and sound when they feel the same way.
Seeing the World with New Eyes. Bluey and Bingo like to play outdoors. They use the sun, shadows, trees, fences, garden hoses, and other things around them to invent games. Pick an outdoor space to play. Suggest to children that a sidewalk or path is a river that might sweep you all away if you step in it. Invite them to look around to find things they can use to cross the ‘river’. Encourage them to come up with other imaginary scenarios for all to explore and solve.
Playing by the Rules: Bluey, Bingo and their friends love to pretend together. But one of their friends, Coco, struggles with following the rules of the games they invent. Talk with children about Coco’s behavior. Ask: Why do you think Coco doesn’t want to follow the rules? What does Bluey say when Coco wants to change the rules? (You can’t change the rules because the rules make it fun!) How do rules make games more fun? Encourage children to share stories of games they like to play and the rules that make playing fun.