The battle against screen time is a constant struggle with my kindergartener so when I find an activity that he loves and keeps him engaged for a long time I feel like I’ve won the lottery. This build your own zoo pretend play hit all the right notes for him. I intended it to be for both kids but my daughter was not so excited about his vision for the zoo so we read zoo animal books while he crafted his very own zoo. I loved how involved he was from start to finish and that I could work in some writing practice ( every little bit helps) that didn’t feel like practice at all.
- Gather your materials. You will need some craft paper ( get it at the dollar store and save!) , blocks, animal toys/ puzzle pieces , crayons, some painters tape and scissors.
- Start by cutting a large piece of craft paper and taping it ( using the painter’s tape ) to the floor. Only do this on hard surfaces or the paper will rip and tear when you try to write and draw on it.
- Talk about the design for a zoo. My son and I have made up worlds we tell stories about all the time ( Mine is called Mommyland … original eh?) and we decided to base the layout on the zoo from his imagination. I drew the outline as he explained it to me but the rest was up to him.
- Next sort the animals and build their enclosures. He started with snakes. These stretchy snakes are adored in our house for some odd reason . He wrote the sign, the built the house and arranged the snakes. It took a lot of patience to arrange them just so.
- Arctic animals were next. Starting with the sign then building the structure and adding the animals.
- Africa and the petting zoo were next followed by the whales. No he didn’t write those words , after a few he asked if I could do it and I did to keep the momentum of the play going. The goal wasn’t to force him to write it was to play so I was happy to help.
- I think the most interesting observation for me watching my son do this was how he really wanted a specific design. I loved seeing him sit back like this to take it all in.
Check out our favorite books about the zoo here! I like to include books with activities to deepen the learning and extend the interest in the topic.
This was a rainy Sunday activity thrown together with a old favorite pretend play prop. It’s a great alphabet activity with a focus on pretend play and part of our Alphabet For Starters series. My son and I madethis mail boxyears ago and it had been a while since I’d dug it out of my son’s closet to play. We added in some envelopes and letters and got down to the serious business of play!
- Gather your materials. You will need a super cool mailbox like this one we made from a box, some envelopes, small squares of paper, markers, plain labels, and a bag or purse to use as a mail bag.
- Start by having your child write some letters.
- While they do that write out the envelopes with upper and lowercase letters.
- Fill them with the letters your child writes. I filled a few with other letters as well .
- Next add stamps. Ours were added haphazardly after my daughter demanded we find some. I just wrote STAMP on some plain labels.
- Pop them on the envelopes.
- Time to play. We put each letter in the mailbox stopping to read each envelope as we did.
- When we were done she lifted the box and the play turned into receiving mail.
- She loved opening them. Some were filled with the letters she wrote and some had more letters of the alphabet on them. Label what they open as they do. As we played some of the letters were pretend invites to parties, others were letters from grandparents and one was a bill which cracked me up.
Find our 50 favorite alphabet books for kids in this big round up of books. Do you have a favorite?
Pretend play is a must but spending too much on costumes and props is not. We love finding costumes at big box stores on clearance after Halloween but we also love making our own. Most of these DIY costumes and props are still around my house and are among the most treasured play things. These are all fantastic ways to support your child’s pretend play even if pretending doesn’t come naturally to you.
Tea parties are a big part of our daily pretend play. My daughter loves hosting them for her dad and brother and I thought it was time to jazz our tea parties up a little. This tea party place mat craft for kids is seriously simple! Stickers are such a great art material once kids have passed the ” I will eat everything I touch” phase. They offer wonderful fine motor development and at an age where everything turns into a huge mess stickers are virtually mess free.
- Gather your materials. You will need a tea set ( play or real if you have it) , some party napkins , clear contact paper, stickers ,and scissors. I also grabbed a few real cookies as a surprise for our guests at the tea party.
- Start by putting stickers on your napkins. She was very specific about which stickers she would put on each place mat since she was making them for her dad and brother. I made one for myself at the same time. Crafting along side toddlers is a great way to model how to do the craft without direct instruction and those power struggles that toddlers are so famous for.
- After she decided they all had just the right stickers on them I cut a large piece of contact paper and laid the napkins sticker side down on it.
- Then added a second on top to sandwich the napkins between the sheets of contact paper. Make sure the napkins have enough space between them so you can trim .Pressed and cut .
- Then it was time to set the table.
- All ready! Time to invite the guests.
- I hid the Oreos in the play kitchen and after everyone was seated I told her to open the oven and get the cookies. Of course everyone thought I was referring to play cookies and it was great to see such a simple surprise delight all the guests.
- The play continued until my son invited us to a Lego building party in his room. Which was fun but as you can see not quite as refined as our tea party.
I usually brainstorm general ideas from interests my kids have , lessons I want to teach them or themes from books we’ve discovered. Then some days your toddler is antsy and you grab window markers and decide to color and clean the ride on toys you have on your deck. This car wash play was so much fun. We have washed toy cars and trucks many times before but this was a great way to mix in some creativity . My one disclaimer is to please test the window markers on your toy cars before assuming they will wipe off. Ours did without any issue even the bits that weren’t wiped right away but I’d hate for any toys to get ruined so please test first!
- Gather your materials. You will need some window markers, some warm water, a soapy sponge and some plastic riding toys.
- Start by coloring the cars.
- Don’t mind the dirt , that car is used as a tank in my son’s imaginary WWII play with pine cone bombs and is more than ready for a wash.
- She loved making dots. One tip is to use dark colors that show up well first to give your toddler a good sense of making marks. The pale ones may frustrate young ones when they are hard to see.
- Dip your sponge in the water . To be honest I think she liked wringing out the sponge more than anything and I liked that she was having fun.
- Wipe away the coloring.
We will definitely be doing this simple activity again and again! I already have ideas for my son that include spelling words.