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You’re Never Too Old For Pretend Play

My nine year-old came bounding into the living room yesterday, weilding an unsharpened pencil and wearing his Harry Potter robe from last Halloween.  “To your feet ye scallion and walk the plank or fix me snack…please!”  I jumped to my feet, swooped into a low bow and said, “Please, my Lord, spare me the murky waters of the unknown and I shall prepare a lovely plate of apples and caramel dip to your liking…and thank you for using ‘please’ when you asked!”

To say it is never a dull moment in our house is an understatement.  One moment I’m the queen of the castle, signing papers and watching magic shows.  The next minute I’m the proud owner of a 3 year-old ‘puppy’ that looks strikingly like my younger son.  Pretend play is probably the most important aspect of development for children at any age.

Pretend play lends itself well into so many developmental areas.  Most notably, pretend play allows children to practice real-life scenarios.  We can be Best Friends and have a disagreement that we work out.  We can meet a stranger in a store and work on how to handle that situation.  We have even pretended that our house was in danger (fire, flood, even dragons once in the chimney!) and worked out how to handle it.  Pretend play is a safe way to explore those “scary” things in a child’s life while still having the comfort of it only being pretend.  Children can solve problems that they may encounter in a safe and nurturing way.  And, it opens the door to great discussions between adults and children.

Pretend play is also great for improving and enhancing vocabulary skills.  Oral communication is a key component to language development at any age, so utilizing dialogue in pretend play only enhances those skills.  While younger children benefit in obvious strides from conversational pretend play, older children also learn to use difficult and new words in context while still being in a “safe” environment.

Children who actively engage in pretend play tend to have better social skills as well.  Putting themselves in self-created situations gives the children a chance to learn to appropriately interact with peers and others.  They can work on manners and correct behavior while still having a great deal of fun.

An important part of pretend play, for adults, is to join in if the child will let you or wants you.  The interaction with a child engaging in pretend play can open the doors to deeper discussions about problems – with friends, in school, or just in life in general.  Use pretend play with puppets or stuffed animals to encourage a child to open up and share something that may be bothering him or her.  Sometimes, children can communicate better in third person than speaking on a more personal level; just remember to be open and non-threatening as well as non-judgemental.

For The Love Of A Doll

My husband thought I was weird at first.  There I was, a new mom with a baby boy, and I was picking out a baby doll for him.  He never outright said anything negative about it, but I could tell by his hesitation and slight resistance that he figured a brand new truck or a stick horse would be a more appropriate toy for our son.  I couldn’t have disagreed with that idea more. 

By the time our second son was born, my husband had already seen the relevance to the baby doll purchase.  Dolls provide children with an outlet for non-threatening, interactive, pretend play.  By pretending that they are a Mommy or a Daddy, children can role play different situations and learn how the world “works”.  Daddy might cook.  Mommy may go to work.   Someone is taking out the trash.  Someone is cleaning up the toys. The baby needs a bath and teeth brushed.  Mommies and Daddies help.  Children can practice routines that they experience in their own lives: bedtime, mealtime, getting ready for school or daycare, and even playing with other children. 

Dolls are especially important in helping young children adapt to younger children in the family.  At a time when the child may be feeling a bit left out of all the hullabaloo surrounding the new baby, the baby doll can give the older child a chance to take care of a “newborn” without fear of failure or harm and in a positive and loving way.  They can mimick Mommy and Daddy’s role in taking care of the newborn and see how much work goes into taking care of a baby.

Children who are overly shy can branch out and explore in a “safety net” relationship when they befriend a doll.  They can learn how to interact with other children and role play different situations that may be fearful to them.  Dolls are a wonderful tool to use when trying to figure out what may be troubling a young child; young children are often more apt to talk to an inanimate object, such as a doll, than a grown up.

WonderBrains offers a wonderful line of dolls for both boys and girls.  new dolls on site and the importance of interactive, pretend play in a child’s growth and development, both boys and girls.  HABA brand dolls are soft cloth dolls from 12 inches to 15 inches and are made in Germany.  They are all safe for children ages 18 months and up.  Their line even includes boy dolls as well!  WonderBrains carries a variety of clothing and accessories that are perfect with the HABA line of dolls.

When you are preparing for the upcoming holiday season, be sure that the children in your life have a doll.  It is a wonderful tool for growing and learning as well as a wonderful toy!

Indoor Winter Fun

Things are crazy in our household this time of year, mainly because we’re all stuck inside with the weather what it is.  So, I’ve been looking for a few activities to add to my “collection” to break up the monotony (and the sibling fights).

  1. Picnics Aren’t Just For Summer!  Pull out a blanket and spread out on the floor.  We do the entire picnic fare: hot dogs, chips, raw veggies, bottled water, and my homemade brownies for dessert.  Sometimes we’ll invite our neighbor kids over to join us, and other times we’ll have a whole congregation of stuffed animals to keep us company at our picnic. 
  2. Strike Up The Band!  I’m not usually one for loud noise in the house, but “happy” noise is much more tolerable than “cranky” noise!  Pull out the (gasp) pots, lids and spoons for a percussion section, and create some of your own instruments as well.  Take a paper towel roll and use as a horn (or put waxed paper on one end and set with a rubber band for a kazoo), string large rubber bands around an open shoe box for a string instrument, and show your child how to blow across an empty soda or water bottle for a “flute”.  Put on a fun musical CD and create a parade!
  3. No-Snow?  No Problem!  My kids don’t get the chance to see “real” snow, so we make our own snowtime fun indoors.  On laundry day, roll all the socks into balls and divvy them up.  Find your “hideout” and let the snowball fight begin!  We love to use our couch and a chair as our “stations”.  The socks are soft and won’t hurt, and the boys have so much fun, trying to land one on Mom!

The important thing for me to remember during times we need to stay indoors is to be safe and have fun.  The pillows can be put away later, the sheets can be refolded, but times like these need to be enjoyed with my boys.

5…4…3…2…1 Blast Off With Space Pudding!

Do you have a space fan in your house?  This snack idea is sure to be a big hit for your little astronaut!

SPACE PUDDING

1 Tbsp plus 1 tsp instant pudding, any flavor
1/4 c. milk
ziploc bag

Place ingredients in the ziploc bag.  Seal the bag.  Shake, squeeze and smush the bag until the pudding thickens.  Cut off the corner point of the bag, then squirt the pudding into your mouth, just like the astronauts do!

Imagine That!

We were on our way home from our restaurant of choice (because they have an indoor play yard) with the kids one night, when our 2 year old son started shouting in a desperate voice, “DAD!  DAD!!!!”  Our immediate response was to find out what was so distressing that warranted a call reserved only for blood-related injuries.

As it turns out, the kids’ meal toys were being put to good use as pretend play was abounding in the back seat.  My husband and I were reproached for interrupting the “show”.  And, once we squared away that we were, indeed, not needed at the moment and could continue the drive home, all was right in the back seat again.

Pretend Play is one of the benchmarks of toddlerhood.  For their entire lives up until this point, children focus mainly on how toys work and how they feel/taste/smell/sound/look.  But, somewhere around the time that language acquisition explodes and children discover their vocal capabilities, they find that they can CREATE voice.  They can create many voices.  And, they can manipulate the course of events in a new world called imagination.

The thought processes involved in engaging in pretend play are phenomenal.  Not only is the child creating a character in their mind, but they are transferring that mental information into concrete action.  Many of these scenarios stem from real-life events or what they experience through external stimulation (books, TV, plays, even people-watching in a park). Sometimes, though, they are completely created off the cuff by the child.

How amazing it is to remember a few months ago where our child was happy to bang his belongings into the back seat window, leaving us with the fear of losing the window – and now?  Now he’s creating his own little world with his own mind, learning how the real world works and how things interact with each other.  He can safely try out newly acquired words and phrases.  And, he is using higher-order thinking by representing one concept with an object.

Next time you “catch” your child in one of these imaginary worlds, step back and watch the wonder of the human brain at work.  Pretending is definitely more than its cracked up to be!

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