When my daughter received a play kitchen for her 2nd birthday, we were not surprised that she immediately took to it and started pretending to make food. She had started pretend play several months earlier, complete with character voices for her animals and worlds that she created with Legos. What we were surprised by was that her kitchen prompted our 5-year-old son, who rarely showed interest in pretend play, to participate, as well. It was only after this that we started noticing that, because my daughter was interested in certain activities or in experiencing things differently, that my son was starting to open himself to them.
Pretend play was a very noticeable one as he is very focused on realism and organized, linear thought and experiences. But he suddenly started leading the way in acting out stories. He still didn’t fully understand when his sister announced that a character from a show they were watching was sitting at the table with them or that she was going to go on a train in the living room. In fact, he argued with her that the trains in the living room were not big enough for her to get on. We’ve had to explain to him that her pretend play can be whatever she wants. But, despite this, we can see his mind opening to the possibility of imagination on another level than he is used to.
Could it be that the younger sibling was actually prompting the older sibling to expand his horizons, rather than the usual other way around?
When we thought about it some more, we realized that whenever she wanted to do art— another activity that he has been fairly adverse to–he would also immediately sit down and start drawing or painting with her. In fact, she started doing so much art that he finally fully embraced it and agreed to bring paper and crayons to a trip to the Promenade in Brooklyn Heights which overlooked the East River and a view of Manhattan. For 40 minutes, the two of them sat there drawing things that they saw. He was the one that didn’t want to stop. He came out with an amazing picture of the Staten Island Ferry and the Statue of Liberty. She had some extremely colorful drawings which she also said was the Statue of Liberty. He went so far as to muse aloud that maybe he could be an artist when he grew up. I was floored.
Possibly the most pronounced example came over the summer. My son is addicted to the subways. He knows all of the lines, completed his set of all of the trains for his 5th birthday, and also has been on every line in the New York City transit system. He loves the Transit Museum but has always been very fearful of going into the old trains downstairs–possibly one of the coolest parts of the museum, in my opinion.
While he was at camp, I took my daughter to the Transit Museum by herself. It was a wholly different experience going with her. She was drawn to activities I had never even noticed, was willing to do more of the interactive activities, and she was thrilled to explore the old trains. At dinner that night, she and I reported about our visit and my son became intensely interested and asked tons of questions. He was clearly a little jealous, even that she had gone into the old trains.
Several weeks later, I took both of them to the museum. He announced that he wanted to go into the old trains. We went into every single one. He did more of the interactive activities than ever before and, for the first time, he noticed the huge history of the subway system on the wall. (This was not of interest to my daughter but it showed me that he was trying to experience the museum in a different way.)
Perhaps he just needed time. But perhaps he just needed someone else to show him how fun these things could be. Someone he trusted who was more of a peer. Perhaps she helped him get past some of his mental roadblocks. Or maybe he’s just really interested in her. Whatever it is, we’re just glad that she’s able to open him up to things we were unable to.