bringing fabric into play

Above: Children drape a light fabric over some stacked blocks creating a cozy little club house. Once the roof is in place they furnish the house with things to sit on and rest on.

Left: The teachers make decorative netting material available in a box. Several girls thread the center hole of the gear part with the fabric to give their tower a decorative top that picks up the flow of the wind. 

Right: These three girls are pretending to be doctor, nurse, and patient. The blocks are the bed and the red fabric serves as the bed sheet. The fabric allows them to role play themes that involve covering, such as being so sick you have to remain under the covers.

what it means

A sheet is a large flexible plane. It can cover large irregular openings like the top of a fort with turrets. Sheets also billow and flutter with the wind causing thoughts about sailing by making the wind visible. Fabric strips can decorate, but can also be used to tie two blocks together or make a long chain of these blocks so those blocks can be “owned” by one person. Fabric adds motion to a structure, adds different colors to a pattern, and masks components of a structure that the children want to hide. Once, a large group of children re-enacted the unveiling of a public monument by draping a sheet over a block tower then pulling it off with fanfare. These potentials make fabric the perfect complement to the rigid blocks.

2-4 year olds

Children of two or three years will prefer smaller swatches of fabric to use, such as the right amount to wrap a baby doll in a pretend baby blanket (see also: cylinders), or to hide under for peek-a-boo play with a parent. The blanket already has a function and it is harder for younger children to invent new uses of fabric not usually assigned to it.

4-7 year olds

Older children might pretend play with fabric. A hanging sheet is a pretend wall to breach. A narrow ribbon of fabric will be used to wrap a giant size present and swatches of colored fabric could be stepping stones to a block structure.

7-10 year olds

The still older children may show less interest in the fabric, unless its surface area is very large. These children will realize how fabric can easily cover even irregular structures. The fabric actually lets them create a roof without having to figure out the architectural design that would be required to hold up a roof made of blocks.

This material is adapted from the publication "Imagination Playground's Guidance to Play" by George E. Forman, PhD, Emeritus Professor, University of Massachusetts (Amherst) and President of Videatives, Inc.

Dr. Forman has over 33 years of experience in university teaching, cognitive research, multimedia design and educational consulting in the area of early childhood learning and development.

"Guidance to Play" covers 20 topics that help illustrate the significance in what children are doing as they play as well as concrete actions Play Associates can take to facilitate positive behaviors.