During my time in Oklahoma, I spent hours on end with little people.
Normally, this is not the case. In my day-to-day, I don’t have a lot of interaction with anyone under the age of 18. This has been the case for most of my life after the age of 10 – when I stopped hanging out with my peers and started hanging out with the employees of the family business.
The result was a massive cold which lasted over a week, and several lessons in this crash-course known as aunt-hood.
So, as someone who doesn’t spend a lot of time around little people, I wasn’t entirely sure what I should expect. My older niece is working up to four years of age, the younger is not yet a full one.
There are two types of play which may divert a four-year-old girl: narrative and comedic.
I’m a story-teller, and I’m a hoot.
I was a hit, to put it modestly.
The four-year-old and I crawled around on the floor and came up with all manner of simple stories for her dolls and horse figurines. They weren’t elaborate. Not for me, a novelist, anyway. But even toddlers know the most instinctive rules for storytelling: character, problem, journey, and setting. The green carpet became fields of grass, the zip purse became an oven, and a little gold shield became an invisible pan of cake. The horses and dolls acquired names (which changed between stories). And then a problem would arise, and the characters would need to run around to solve it.
There weren’t enough invisible strawberries for our invisible cake: the horse kept eating them.
There was a dance party, but no way to get there.
One doll wouldn’t share ice cream with the invisible kids at her Sunday school.
The problems would often repeat as my little niece tried to find multiple solutions for them, and she absolutely loved having a collaborative mind to help her in these scenarios.
Comedy, on the other hand, was a lot simpler. It didn’t require the pretty dolls, combs, or patience. It just required a silly doll doing silly things on a loop.
Let me tell you, a little girl giggling herself silly is some kind of crazy addictive. She and I spent nearly an hour sitting on the floor while I made silly screaming sounds on behalf of a raggedy doll. She laughed so hard, pretty soon the whole room was chortling along with her.
The rules for play with little people are the same rules as entertaining adults: stories and comedy. Adults just start making things more complicated.