Parents Room

Helping Toddlers Learn Through Make-Believe

Kayleen is serving tea and muffins to Oscar the Grouch while sporting a faded felt snowman hat. Not too far away, C.J. is holding a baby doll and gently taking her temperature with a big plastic thermometer. What do these two year olds have in common? They’re both engaging in the time-less activity of ‘make-believe’ play.

Through make-believe, young children learn about themselves and the world around them. Little babies playing pat-a-cake are making believe. Depending on the age of the child, their role playing games will vary. Imaginative children don’t need fancy toys or equipment to pretend; they’re happy with a box and a toilet tissue roll. When they engage in pretend play with a variety of objects, they’re learning life skills that will help them as adults.

We’ve all watched little kids playing dress-up or ‘house.’ Children can create an imaginary world anywhere – when molding clay animals, when helping mom or dad match-up socks (sock puppets are the best after all.) If they’re this creative with just a sock, then think what they can do with special make-believe props.

Often parents feel that their children require expensive furniture and household equipment for pretend play. Remember the little boy with the refrigerator box in his back yard when you were a kid? Everyone showed up to help build limitless structures and the play would go on for hours, or until the box fell apart. Oh well, the hours spent cooperating together and using colorful imaginations were worth far more than any expensive jungle gym or playhouse.

What spurs the imagination of a toddler or preschool age child? What type of ‘props’ should parents provide to encourage make-believe even further than what kids will do naturally? Here are just a few ideas:

  • Dress-Up – hats, jewelry, scarves, shoes, dresses and shirts, purses or backpacks
  • Kitchen – lots of plastic bowls with lids, kid size broom/mop/dustpan, towels, spoons, measuring cups, pots and pans with lids
  • Family – blankets, pillow, both male and female baby dolls, old or toy cell phones, boxes of various sizes for baby beds
  • House – kid size table, cardboard boxes to serve as appliances, furniture or TV, full-length mirror

    Playing make-believe encourages little children to play together, and is perfect for play groups and for helping shy children overcome anxiety. Little children have boundless ideas for creative play, but love it when parents or caregivers take part in the activity. Many times, imaginative play can help parents realize that their child is fearful or worried about something in particular. Helping them talk about their fears through make-believe will often lessen the child’s stress and bring you closer to your child.

    Encourage your child’s imagination through make-believe with simple and inexpensive toys and props. Your refrigerator box may fall apart, but the fun of building it will last forever.

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