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.
Pretend play is probably my favorite part of early childhood education because there are countless lessons hidden in every pretend play scenario. We turned our playroom into a vet clinic simply by mixing a few stuffed animals with our trusty doctor kit and rearranging the furniture. It was fast for me to set up and both kids enjoyed taking care of their animals. Along the way they learned about body parts, empathy and my son and I had a nice chat about prescriptions and why it’s important to only ever take medicine the doctor has specifically prescribed for you .
- Gather your materials. You will need some stuffed animals, a play doctor kit , some paper, a clip board, marker , and a bench or table to use as an exam table. I added a basket for my daughter who wanted to tuck her patients into bed after she examined them.
- Set up a waiting area with furniture and books – our books were all about dogs and cats, you can check out our reviews after the tutorial.
- Set up an exam room. I labeled each area and encourage you to as well, it helps deepen the play as well as adds some reading to the activity.
- Make a check list for older kids who are reading and either have them write or circle answers. Can you tell I did this in a hurry? It was almost time to get my son from school. Best thing is he didn’t care, as long as he could read it no need to be perfect!
- Play! My daughter examined her cat trying out each instrument and having just had her own 18 month old check up she was familiar with many of them. I chatted with her as she played but didn’t intervene unless she interacted with me. I did pretend to nurse the cat as per her request.
- She loves her patients!
- With my son I pretended to be the dog and cat’s owners but followed his lead.
- We worked in measurement and gave the pup a little oxygen.
- The puppy got a clean bill of health!
Books About Cats and Dogs
If You Give a Cat a Cupcake (If You Give… Books) by Laura Numeroff is one of the newer “If You Give…” series. I like this one , I mean any book with a cat in a bathing suit is worth a look. I am a big fan of these stories not only because they have just the right amount of text for young preschoolers, but also because the illustrations by Felicia Bond are so detailed you can spend ages talking about what your child sees in the book after the words are read. I love the cause and effect , and after a few readings your child will have fun telling you what’s next.
Otto Goes to Bed by Todd Parr is a really fun and positive book. Otto is a dog who doesn’t want to go to bed, he wants to play, chase his tail and a bath and brushing teeth don’t help. Instead he figures out that there is something he likes about bedtime, dreaming! I like that this book addresses that going to bed feels like missing out on things for kids, I know I felt like that for years. Instead of blankly saying “Sleeping is great” or “You have to go to bed” this book finds something positive about going to bed . The illustration of Otto as a super hero dog makes my son howl with laughter every time.
Otto Goes to the Beach by Todd Parr was a steal of a deal at the Goodwill ! I got a hardcover in perfect condition for 70 cents. My bargain hunting aside, I really enjoy this book as did my son. Otto is a dog who goes to the beach but no one wants to do the same things as he does, even the fish swim the other way! In the end after feeling very sad Otto finds a new friend and all his misery is forgotten. I love Todd Parr books, I love the insanely bright colors, the cute simplistic illustrations and I love the messages they send. This book followed his other books perfectly and provided a great final message about not giving up finding a friend who will like all the same things you do!
This post was shared on Nurture Store’s Play Academy
I love having a project set up for my son when he gets home from school before he gets involved in his own play . Yesterday he arrived home to this simple Santa’s Workshop set up. This wasn’t a long afternoon of play , but it was 30 minutes of smiles and giggles and pretending he was an elf! He also did some crafting, some deep thinking , reading, a little writing and of course imaginative play. Remember that your set up need not be worthy of a Broadway production, just good enough to support play.
- Gather your materials. I made 3 stations in this workshop a building station, a toy testing station and a wrap station. My materials included paper bag, glue ( I switched it to a glue stick), scissors, wrapping paper, construction paper, markers , plain paper , a clip board and some toys.
- For the Duplo Building Station I used black construction paper down the middle of the table to act as a conveyer belt, made simple buildings with the duplo and provided duplicate blocks in containers for my son to build. There is actually a really great lesson in duplication here. Following directions is an important skill and lego type toys are a great way to work on the skills non verbally.
- The Wrap Station is our craft component – I provided glue, scissors, markers , snowflake confetti, wraping paper scraps to cut and glue and paper bags.
- The Toy Testing Station had some reading for him to do , and questions to answer after he tested the toy. I snuck some circle drawing in too!
- Think he was excited to see it? He said to me ” Do I really get to pretend to be an elf? Really?”
- Getting into the elf character .Building the duplo !
- Making the gift bags.
- All wrapped up.
- Off to test a toy.
- Test results.
- Happy, busy and at the North Pole … at least in his imagination!
How Santa Really Works by Alan Snow is a great book to go along with this activity. The book is styled as an expose about how Santa and his many many elves get all the work for Christmas done. I will caution you now that this is a long book, with even longer asides. I made my son head up to bed with me and the book early inorder to get it read and still have time to chat about it after. I love the “insider” feel about this book and so did my son. There were many asides thta made both of us giggle especially the comment about how many requests Santa gets for ponies each year. I loved that it encouraged kids to write to Santa but I have to say I sorta miss that it didn’t include much about magic. Still I can’t tell you how much my son loved this book ( I knew he would) and how impressed I was when he asked me if I thought this was how it worked. That opened a great discussion about how we imagine the North Pole and how stories andmovies are just one person’s imagination and no one knows the truth . This is a completely secular view of Christmas too so if you are looking for a religious book this is not for you but you can try these ones.
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This isn’t the first time we have made a grocery store for pretend play , but it was the first time with both kids and because it was such a hit the 2nd time around I thought I may as well post about what made it so much fun.
I started by clearing out some of our toys from the playroom. In the past I have done this in a bedroom and kitchen. In a bedroom I used the low bed for main aisles/ produce section. In the kitchen I used a shelf on an island. It doesn’t matter what you use it matters if it’s in their line of sight. My son reached for the grocery items on the windowsill and my daughter went straight for the ones on the shelf ( well after the baby in the cart ). If you don’t have a shopping cart grab a basket or small bag for your shoppers to put their purchases in.
For food and grocery items just raid your pantry. Last time I used real produce but my son was old enough to tell him not to eat it while playing ( which you could encourage also depending on if you need the fruit or vegetable later for a meal), my daughter is a muncher and I knew if I put any real produce out each and every piece would have little baby girl bites out of them, so I opted for our play food.
For an added layer of learning I placed the produce/ fresh food in food groups. My son has been interested in this lately and immediately when my daughter would place an egg into the vegetable basket he’d correct her. Play like this is a natural opportunity to talk about nutrition too.
We added an old lap top and a desk for the checkout, one of our own cloth grocery bags and a simple sign on the door – then the kids!
They had a blast! Especially my daughter who went shopping multiple times yesterday.
This time I added some labels and other print like this weekly specials board for my son to read, but both children benefit from a print rich environment so even if your child is not starting to read don’t skip them.
Labels are a great way to boost print awareness and help show children how people use reading skills in everything we do not just reading stories. We were crunched for time so I threw it all together but guess what things don’t need to be perfect for the play to be fantastic! Please remember that, so often I see wonderful beautiful things on pinterest and think that as pretty as those things are for the average parent trying to manage a family and throw together some fun things for their kids those perfect pretty things might not be attainable. Perfect isn’t the goal , play is.
My son is all about pretend play and we had so much fun yesterday mixing art and pretend playtime as we played Pizza Parlor. I hope this post shows how low key pretend play can be and still be fun . I know that sometimes pretend play can be hard for some parents to get into but when you play scenarios like this one it’s easy to be a customer and the play helps kids try on different roles, get comfy with social interactions and be in control of things they are normally not.
- Gather your materials. You will need some paper plates, sticky back foam, crayons and scissors for the pizzas. The extra props like the pizza box came from our local store and the oven was made from a box, a marker , a sheet of construction paper and tape.
- Start by cutting or having your child cut the foam into pizza toppings. We made pineapple, peperoni, green peppers and olives.
- I made the oven by flipping a box over, cutting one side out and adding some buttons and clock on a sheet of construction paper and taping it on.
- First call in the order
- Start making some pizza – my son started by throwing the dough.
- Add the sauce with crayons.
- Add the toppings.
- Pop it in the oven!
- Into the box and into the delivery car.We played for a long time calling in different types of pizzas. He never made me pay for my orders saying pizza was free every Monday, Tuesday and all weekend. Now that is my kind of pizza!
Pizza at Sally’s is another great look at a small business owner , and how she does her work everyday and feeds the masses with her yummy pizza! I like how it not only explains how to make pizza but it also looks at the ingredients and how they are grown and processed. Of course it’s not explained in depth but it is explained enough to start a dialogue with interested preschoolers for further investigation. My son loves the cat in this book, the same cat is in many of the other books but for some reason he particularly loves it’s presence in this one. It’s inspired me to make the dough from scratch with my son next time we have pizza! A lovely book!