There was a problem in our family child care program. There had always been some confusion during dramatic play over whether someone was sleeping, or unconscious, or sick, or dead. Every time someone flopped down and quit moving the other players had to suss out what was going on.
They’d use contextual clues. If they were sleeping there might be some snoring. Playing sick might come with moaning. Playing dead might be preceded an elaborate death scene.
They’d also ask questions: “Are you sick or dead?”, “Did you die yet or are you still dying?”, “You’re sleeping, right?”
They’d make assumptions as best they could: “Well. I guess the dinosaur attackers killed Grandma, let’s bury her by the tree.”
“No. I’m not dead yet, I’m still dying. It’s going to take a long time.”
It was all very confusing until the day three-year-old Annie figured out a solution.
“Guys, from now on, when you’re dead, stick out your tongue.”
It must have been a good idea, because it was immediately adopted by all the kids in the program and became one of their play rules.
ALIVE = Tongue In.
DEAD = Tongue Out.
In fact, it was such a good idea that it was passed down to the younger kids and continued to be a “house rule” in our program long after Annie grew up and moved on.