Daydreaming is a form of mental play. The role the child plays in his daydreams is more dramatic, more heroic, more fanciful, and more remote from daily life than the role played in make-believe play. In make-believe play, the child may play the role of an aviator by donning an aviator's cap and pretending to ride through space as he runs across the playroom with a toy airplane held above his head. In a daydream, however, he will see himself as a real aviator, garbed in the clothing of an aviator and riding through space in a real airplane.
While the young child generally centers his make-believe play around the mundane experiences of daily life, such as playing house or playing Sunday school, the daydream has more glamour, romance, and excitement in both setting and action. Many of the ideas for daydreams come from books, comics, movies, and television programs that have an element of the fanciful or of unreality.
About the time the child enters school, make-believe play begins to lose its appeal, and daydreaming takes its place. While daydreaming may begin earlier and it does in bright children—it reaches a peak during puberty. It is popular among older children when they are bored or restricted in other play, as when they must sit through a long, drawn-out family meal. A well-adjusted child usually daydreams only when he cannot engage in other forms of play. The poorly adjusted child, by contrast, substitutes daydreaming for play with other children or for constructive play.
Most children are too full of energy to be satisfied with such inactive play as daydreaming. With the rapid growth and physical changes that accompany puberty, however, the child's energy is depleted. As a result, he substitutes mental for physical play. As has already been pointed out, many children engage in only the most inactive forms of play at puberty-listening to the radio, playing records, or watching television. Often they prefer to daydream because it takes less energy and is more satisfying. Girls at every age daydream more than boys. Furthermore, at puberty, girls develop more rapidly than boys and, consequently, have less energy for active play.
Enjoyment of daydreaming parallels the development of intelligence in children who are well adjusted. Because imagination develops more rapidly than reasoning ability, the older child can imagine himself in any role he wishes and not realize how incongruous this is. Gradually, as his reasoning ability develops, he begins to see the incongruity. He then approaches his daydreams with the same critical attitude that he uses in assessing his constructions, whether they are drawings, paintings, or wood models.
Jersild has given a graphic description of the effect reasoning has on the enjoyment a child derives from daydreaming:
An eight-year-old boy rides, in his fancies, jauntily over the western range on a fine horse, ready for combat with horse thieves, coyotes, or Indians. As the plot unfolds, his activities become increasingly complex. He has a trusty rifle and a belt of ammunition at the start; but when he stops to camp, he needs materials for making a fire, cooking utensils, and what not, so he finds it necessary to pretend that he had an extra pack horse with him from the beginning. As the drama goes on, he may find himself so burdened with equipment, horses, and other paraphernalia that the job of planning and ordering things in the daydream becomes somewhat arduous. This tendency for a day. dream to bog down under its own weight as it calls for more and more ingenuity and "thinking" frequently occurs in adults, spoiling what might otherwise have been a fine time.