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Imitation and Symbolic Representation and Play: Improve

Infants and Toddlers

Reflecting on and improving your skills and knowledge to support children’s developing abilities to engage in imitation and symbolic representation and play is important work. Here are some ideas you can try with your coach or supervisor to build your teaching practices in this area:

Planning Goals and Action Steps

  • Work with your coach or supervisor to identify the teaching practices you want to build and strengthen. Here are some practices that help infants and toddlers begin to engage in imitation and symbolic representation and play.1
    • Extend pretend play sequences as toddlers grow by asking questions, introducing a new prop or character, or suggesting a significant change in a play plot.
    • Connect toddlers’ imaginary play to familiar plots from storybooks and real-life situations to help children make connections to known narratives and experiences.
    • Organize the environment to encourage pretend play sequences in a variety of contexts.
    • Introduce props to represent real-life items during toddlers’ imitative and imaginary play in response to their interests and developmental readiness.
    • Imitate sounds, gestures, actions, and facial expressions of infants to promote emerging imitation play skills.
  • In home-based programs, effective practices may also include broader relationship-building practices such as those described in Building Partnerships: Guide to Developing Relationships with Families.
  • Create an action plan with timelines to help you use the practices consistently and effectively.

Focused Observation

  • Revisit the teaching practice that you outlined in your planning goals and action steps with your coach/supervisor. Together, plan for and schedule an observation where they can focus on how you implement the practices you’ve identified.
    • For example, if you chose to focus on the practice, Extend pretend play sequences as toddlers grow by asking questions, introducing a new prop or character, or suggesting a significant change in a play plot, you might ask your coach/supervisor to join a free play period when you know you will be free to stay in the pretend play area with a small group of children. You can ask him to observe how you join children’s play by extending conversations, adding a play prop, or acting out a role to support the play scenario. You might also ask your coach/supervisor to observe how the children respond to your practices.
  • In home-based programs, observations may focus on how the home visitor engages with parents to identify, adapt, and use the identified teaching and relationship-building practices. They may also focus on how you model the practices.

Reflection and Feedback

  • What went well? What did you do? How did the child/children react or respond?
    • In home-based settings, how did the parents react or respond? How did their reaction support the relationship with their child? Their child’s developing abilities to engage in imitation and symbolic representation and play?
  • Cite specific evidence from the observation.
  • What seemed challenging? What did you do? How did the child/children react or respond?
    • In home-based settings, how did the parents react or respond? Their child?
  • Cite specific evidence from the observation.
  • Did your coach/supervisor offer feedback from the observation that was surprising? What supports do you need from her to refine and strengthen the practice? What else would help you strengthen the practice?
  • What would you do differently if you were to use this practice again?
  • What do you hope the child/children/parents will gain by using this practice? How will you know?

1Allyson Dean, Sarah, LeMoine, and Maria Mayoral, ZERO TO THREE Critical Competencies for Infant-Toddler Educators (Washington, DC: ZERO TO THREE, 2016), 50–51, C-3.

Topic:School Readiness

Resource Type: Article

Last Updated: June 5, 2018