Featured Picture Book
PETE’S A PIZZA by William Steig
(Available at your local public library or bookstores, including online stores.)
PETE’S A PIZZA is a description of a game that Mr. Steig played with his youngest daughter. The reader and listener are able to look in on a make believe game in which Dad becomes a pizza maker and his son Pete turns into the pizza, step-by-step. They pretend going through all the steps of actually making a pizza: kneading, stretching, whirling and twirling up in the air, adding oil and flour, topping with tomatoes and cheese, baking, and slicing. Of course, Pete can’t talk “… because he’s only some dough and stuff.” And, Pete reminds Dad that “‘Pizza-makers are not supposed to tickle their pizzas!'” This is a fun story, but to me, it is most valuable for its step-by-step directions for playing Mr. Steig’s Pizza Game. And, it can be an inspiration for playing many other make-believe games as well as creating parts for them.
Make-believe with Grown-ups is Great Fun.
Dr. Mom: Pretending was one of my favorite types of play with my kids. In an older blog I think I told you about when Dancing Bear visited our house. (That Special Gift – Part 2)
Some parents worry about this type of play when it becomes so real to the child, but it is usually nothing for parents to worry about. Active imagination in children is something to be happy about. Pretend play is what children need to develop their imaginations. Just like you have to exercise your muscles to be able to run a race, children need to exercise the imagination part of their brains too. Many of today’s most desired careers require creative, artistic skills for success.
Darling Daughter: Ezzy never had a “Dancing Bear” imaginary friend that I know of, but I can’t count how many helpings of cotton candy, salmon, and blueberry juice I’ve been served (with a smile) while visiting “Ezzy’s Eatery” where she was waitress, short order cook, and cashier all rolled into one.
Pretend play also allows children to make decisions about how they should act. Will they be powerful? Will they be a follower? What will they do when they’re disappointed? When they are excited? Also, pretend allows them to try out different ways to get and keep friends as well as to try out adult jobs they want to explore and know more about.
Despite Ezzy’s lack of full-blown imaginary friends, she did/does carryon quite elaborate multi-person conversations in which she plays all the parts. I must admit it was a tad bit upsetting to walk past the playroom and hear a heated debate from multiple perspectives (including an adult) coming out of her mouth. When she is not carrying out her elaborate discussion/debates on her own, Ezzy seems to be drawn to imaginary play with her Barbie, Monster High, or My Little Pony dolls. These conversations have given me a much needed break from multi-course, rainbow-flavored meals at Ezzy’s Eatery.
One caution: The only way we all can really enjoy pretend and keep it alive forever is to be very clear about the difference between what is real and what is pretend. Adults can help children with this. Does it mean that adults can’t play along and pretend with the child? No, there’s nothing better than having adults become part of the pretend play. But, adults can let the child know when they are pretending and when they are not. For example when you start, you can say, “I would love to play pretend with you.” When you are done, you can announce, “I’m done pretending now.” You can say, “We’re not playing pretend right now, so you will need to walk and talk like the little boy you are instead of acting like a lump of pizza dough.”
Encouraging pretend play and still keeping it real is pushed to the limit in almost every household when the monster under the bed appears. This is a great time for adults to teach what is pretend and what is real. (Getting Kids to Sleep)
A Word about Feelings
In PETE’S A PIZZA, Dad decides to play the Pizza Game because he couldn’t “… help noticing how miserable his son is.” This makes me want to point out that letting children feel their feelings is sometimes hard for us. We want to save them from feeling sad, mad, or afraid. As much in favor of the pretend play as I am, I suggest it not be used to talk a child out of feeling what he feels. This is not to say that pretend play can’t be a tool for helping a child feel better. Just make sure it is part of teaching the child about his feelings and how to feel better instead of an adult way to get the child to bury the feeling altogether. Here are two ways to use the fun of make-believe to change a child’s bad mood.
- Talk to the child about what he is feeling. Help him name his feelings so he can understand them better. You can start with, “You look pretty gloomy right now.” Then add one of these questions: Do you know why? What’s your day been like? What’s going on?
Ezzy is totally stuck in this limbo land of not knowing why she is feeling the way she is feeling. She has an emotional reaction to something, say a monopoly game, and I ask loads of questions trying to guide her through what she could be feeling. Every answer is an over dramatic, “I don’t know.” I believe she truly doesn’t know vs. the hidden meaning of “I don’t know” – “I don’t want to talk about it.” Not sure what to do next for her. I just try to guess what is going on and give general advice. I try to always add that it is ok to feel sad when such and such happens.
I agree, though, letting her sit in her emotions (when they are not happy ones) is hard to do. I keep telling myself it is a learning experience that is better learned now. I also try to be with her during this time but try to let her direct the activity based on what she needs. I just can’t tell her, “It’s ok to be sad” and then leave her in the living room by herself while I go do laundry.
Dr. Mom: Good idea to be nearby and available.
- Ask the child to think about what would make him feel better. Some special time playing with you might be suggested by the child or by you – good time for pretend play. When pretend play is suggested as a way to feel better during a discussion about feelings, it becomes part of taking charge of the feelings. This is much better than ignoring the feelings and having a parent take charge of “fixing” the sad feelings of the child.
The PIZZA Game
Mr. Steig’s Pizza Game looks like the most fun ever – for both adult and child. I can’t wait to try it.
Wait a minute. I’m the daughter. If you can’t wait to try it, does that mean you are going to turn ME into a pizza??!!? I’m not sure I want to come over for dinner next Sunday – what’s on the menu? Italian?
Not to worry, I want to do it with someone who will giggle in all the right places. I had Ezzy in mind.
Here’s how Mr. Steig plays the game.
- Have the child lie down – now he’s a pile of dough.
- Add your ingredients like oil and flour on top of the child. Be creative about using real things to be the oil and flour. (Mr. Steig uses water and talcum powder – be careful with talcum powder or anything dusty like that because it can create breathing issues for some children.)
- Pretend to knead the dough (child) and stretch, twist, and turn it into a round crust.
- Put your toppings of choice on top of the child. What will be your tomatoes? (Mr. Steig used checkers.)
- Put the “human pizza” in the oven. (Mr. Steig lays him on the sofa). Make sure your oven is an open, airy space that won’t scare the child.
- Take the pizza out of the oven and slice it up for eating. Use your hands. No real knives – not even for pretend. And, be gentle. No Karate chopping.
Other Fun and Games
It’s a long summer, so what else can you do that will be fun like the Pizza Game?
- Create your own game. Make Mr. Steig’s Pizza Game to be about your favorite type of pizza. Or, think of another favorite family food that could become a game. (A birthday cake, mashed potatoes, pretzels, etc.) The Birthday Boy becoming a birthday cake of his favorite flavor could become the new “Pin the Tale on the Donkey” game at parties. Be sure to name the games you make-up and share them with other family members, neighbors, and friends. You could make your game into a cooking demonstration at a summer neighborhood gathering. Our readers would love to hear about your ideas for a new game. Use the comment section to share.
- Create art projects connected to the games you create. Figure out what real things you will use for your ingredients. For example, crepe paper for spaghetti or salad greens, ping-pong balls for onions, etc. You can draw, cut out, collect, and sculpt things. You can also paint or color what you make.
- Take turns being the cook and the human food. Your child will delight in taking his turn to make you into a favorite food.
- Have someone near and dear who lives away from you? Take a movie of your Game and send it to your loved one.
Tell Dad we are having “pop”-sicles for dessert on Sunday! I can imagine E making him into one. He will end up with some serious ice chips down his shirt. (He might want to wear fleece that day.)
Read All About It
GROWING UP AGAIN, Jean Illsley Clarke and Connie Dawson
HOW MUCH IS TOO MUCH? Jean Illsley Clarke, Connie Dawson, and David Bredehoft
SELF ESTEEM A FAMILY AFFAIR, Jean Illsley Clarke
Surf the Internet:
- pretend play
- feeling faces
- children’s feelings
- summer festival money-making ideas
- children’s games