Fun with pretending

Dressing up, playing cubbies and playing shops is a great way to develop your child's imagination and play skills while learning valuable language skills. It is great fun on a cold, wet winter day and can cost nothing but a little of your time.

Dress ups are a cheap and fun way to develop language skills, pretend play, imagination, creativity and social skills. Dressing up with other children can develop turn-taking and cooperative play. You can buy commercially made costumes if you chooose which allows your child to play characters they love from from movies, TV and books. It is however fun and cheap to make your own dress-ups. Try op- shops for some real bargains. As well as interesting clothes, look for belts, hats, scarves, shoes, handbags, wallets, sunglasses and cloths that can be used for capes. You can also add extras like hats, wands, and pretend jewellery. Kids also love to dress up in mum or dad’s clothes, shoes, sunglasses and handbags and pretend to be “adults” so check the back of your wardrobe and you may not need to spend anything at all for a fun afternoon.

You can use the ideas below to make scenes to go with your dress-ups and act out roles such as shopkeeper, doctor, teacher, vet, policeman. Think about new words and concepts your child can learn while playing out these roles and maybe borrow a non-fiction book about your theme from the library to learn more. Take photos and use them to develop a storybook or slide show, or video your children acting out a scene to make a movie to show family members.

Cubbies are great for developing pretend play skills and pretend play is great for developing language and social skills. Cubbies don’t have to be a house. They can also be a shop, a cafe’, a post office, a fire station, a doctor’s surgery, a pet shop, a vet surgery or whatever captures your child’s interest. All you really need is an enclosed space, such as a large cardboard box (try asking a shop that sells furniture or white goods if they have one to spare) or a blanket, sheet or tarp spread over some chairs, a table or a clothes airer. You can buy cheap pop up tents in toy shops and “cheap shops” that are portable, easy to put away and can be used over and over inside and outside for a wide range of activities.

Once you have your “cubby” you need to fill it with “props” and “characters” to get the pretending going. Props can be dress-ups, pretend toys such as tea sets, empty boxes and containers from groceries. Characters can include dolls, teddies, stuffed toys, puppets, Mum, Dad or grandparents, maybe even a cooperative pet. Props and characters are ways of introducing new words into your child’s vocabulary. Changing the theme of your cubby every few days allows you to add new words. A post office cubby may teach your child “stamp, envelope, post, mail, deliver ” while a doctor cubby might teach “appointment, medicine, prescription, heart, lungs and other body parts”. Remember to include action and describing words into your play to further develop your child’s vocabulary.

To build further on your dress-ups and cubby house why not make a play shop for your child. As well as developing pretend play, creativity, imagination and social skills, shop play can be used to develop literacy and number skills. You can set up a shop in a cubby or just use a children’s table or coffee table as a counter. You can use empty packages or even full ones from your kitchen cupboard as stock for your shop. You can add plastic fruit and vegetables or play food from cheap shops too. Help your child to arrange their “stock” talking about size concepts. Talk about which boxes are big, small, heavy, light, wide, narrow, tall or short. You can arrange them in order and talk about comparatives “big, bigger, biggest”. You can also practice vocabulary and categories by sorting foods into different types. Next you will need some money and a cash register as well as a note pad for adding up. You can include some dress-ups such as an apron, some gloves for handling food or a funny hat or two. You can use a box to make a cash register or you can buy pretend ones in toy shops. You can also buy play money or you can make your own.

Once you have stocked your shop you can practice literacy skills by making signs. Put some numbers on paper and attach to your groceries to make price tickets. You could make a list of specials to put on display and write a shopping list. Young children can copy words from boxes to make their list. As they do this you can talk about the letters, talk about beginning sounds and ending sounds, look for the letters in their name, count letters, sounds and syllables. Older children can have a go at making signs and even use a camera and computer to make their own catalogue.

Next you need some customers to serve. These could be mum, dad, grandpa or even some bargain hungry dolls or teddies. Practice social skills as you request things, ask for information, use please, excuse me and thank you and give help. Practice counting skills and recognising numbers as you serve your customers. Older kids can practice adding or using a calculator.

Once you have a basic set of props you can keep these in a box, play with them time and time again, add to them and reuse them in different ways as your child grows and develops.

Joining in the play with your child is a great way to develop language and extend your child’s play.

The "downloads" section of Our website has lots of information about how parents can develop their child's language, play and communication skills to help you along.

Happy pretending!

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