Coffee Shop Role Play

Veronika loves our daily jaunt out to get mommy’s coffee, so today she got to play barista with a coffee shop of her own! To start, I simply set her up with a toy coffee machine set we have, one of those great ways for kids to mimic the grown ups.

She could brew the beans, pour the coffee, and top it off with sugar and creamer for her patrons (a.k.a. stuffed animals).

Even better, though, is when you give kids a chance to play with the “real thing”. When I set out my coffee pot, the game immediately became more fun.

Now she needed a full coffee house set-up. We added menus, for which I designed the outside, but she helped decorate inside.

She could take “orders” before very seriously pouring from the percolator.

Overall, this was a great riff on tea party play, and kept her quite busy for a while!

Fun up the Pretend Play

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Travis loves to play with his Legos, but sometimes even his imagination needs a boost. When boredom struck today, I challenged him to have his favorite characters hold a “ceremony”. You could do this game with just about any toy your child love, whether that means dolls, stuffed animals, action figures, or something else.

Travis chose to have a coronation ceremony to proclaim one of his Legos as king. If that doesn’t interest your child, you could also suggest weddings, birthdays, or other big celebrations as the “ceremony” of choice.

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To start he wanted to set up a throne and a long hallway for the royal procession. Other Legos would be the bystanders of course, and the new king needed guards.

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All hail the king!

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You can make this game as elaborate as your child wants, adding music, props, and lots of fanfare. Veronika was so jealous that we quickly built a throne for Queen Bunny, too!

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After this round of imaginative play had the creative juices flowing, we upped the ante: challenge your children to act out a scene not with toys but with their own bodies!

The easiest way to do this, unless your child knows a particular movie by heart, is to set a favorite scene playing in the background and act along with it. In short order, we had the following cast from The Mandalorian:

Dad: Mando

Mom: Fennec

Travis: Boba Fett

Veronika: Baby Yoda

Baby Yoda had to sit in the center of a meditation rock.

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Uh oh, Baby Yoda lost interest quickly, so a prop stood in, instead.

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Travis loved imitating poses and hearing us get into character with our lines. This activity was such a novelty, and is a sure way to perk up your child’s pretend play no matter what day of the week!

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Pretend Airplane and Rocket Play

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We’re marking the one-year anniversary of the COVID-19 pandemic, and still searching for novel ways to fill long days indoors. Here’s a simple twist on couch cushion play to keep things novel!

I pulled out all the couch cushions and simply told the kids it was an airplane, a little bit of imagination required; two long pillows formed the body and the two back pillows jutted off to the sides as the wings.

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From there, the imaginative play was up to them! They added stuffed animal passengers, and got a kick out me taking on the role of pilot to make landing and takeoff announcements. (Depending how many times your children have traveled by air, you’ll likely need to model this for them before they pick up the lingo).

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My passengers’ favorite part? Not just having a snack when the “concession cart” came along, but being naughty and eating snack on the wings!

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If your kids are familiar with airports, they can make a much bigger game of this. Ticket counters? Security check?

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Veronika has never seen an airport, but she latched right on to the idea of baggage claim. We packed up a little suitcase with some of her summer clothes and I placed it on the edge of the couch for her to claim.

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She quickly ran over and was soon busy unpacking!

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Why stop at the limits of Earth’s atmosphere? A little more imagination and a quick switch-up of the pillow configuration, and it swiftly became a rocket instead.

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Here goes Veronika on a space walk!

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We made pictures of the planets so we could decide which one we were zooming to.

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This little astronaut needed her space suit on!

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Again, your kids might want to get much more detailed with the game, especially if they’re older. Moon boots? Buttons and command controls inside the space ship? Experiments on board? We’d love to hear your how imaginative play goes, in the comments!

Spring Flower Pretend Play

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Spring has sprung, the grass is ris,

I wonder where the flowers is.

This has always been one of my favorite lines of poetry, and it always rings so true. Today, we welcome spring, but the flowers are still several weeks away! To fill the interim, Veronika played with fake flowers in two ways today.

I had purchased bunches of fake flowers on sale at the craft store and then used a wire cutter to snip them into individual segments instead of big bouquets.

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First, Veronika got to be a florist! Plastic cups and colanders were perfect for toddler-safe vases and making “arrangements”.

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The colander is great because your little one will need to poke the stems down into the holes, which is excellent for fine motor skills.

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She also loved just holding the flowers, peeling back the layers of petals to peer inside and talk about the colors of each, including great vocab like “lavender” and “peach”.

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When this game was done, we made things even more realistic… with a potting soil sandbox! Potting soil makes a great alternative to sand as an indoor sandbox. I poured some into a tray with the pretend flowers on the side. Make sure you cover the floor underneath with newspaper!

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Veronika trotted over to help “plant” the flowers.

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She also loved scooping dirt between two containers, using a beach shovel as her gardening spade.

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Or picking up bandfuls to see how the dirt felt, and then letting it sprinkle down.

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Overall, what beautiful flower play to tide us over for a few more weeks!

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Pretend Play Vet Clinic

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The kids have enjoyed several different scenarios of imaginative play lately, which I love not just because it gets them playing together so well, but also that it breaks them out of playing with the same old toys. So today we tested a third pretend game: a vet clinic!

I set out the various pieces of a toy vet set on the table, including thermometers, stethoscopes, creams, and medicines. But to up the fun factor, Travis and Veronika got some real medical supplies today too, including gauze pads, an ace bandage, and band-aids.

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As the final touch, I printed out a patient checklist from Mess for Less, so the kids could register each animal that came to the clinic. Now we just needed patients! I lined up several of their stuffed animals along the couch as the “waiting room”. You could even use a small chair for each separate animal if you have several in your home!

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Brother and sister both rushed over to see what was going on. Veronika immediately took to the task quite seriously. She loved administering shots and testing out the thermometer.

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She also thought it was so fun to “fill out” the forms, circling the animal species and scribbling notes. (Hey, she already has doctor handwriting!).

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Her favorite, though, was the real band-aids, and she was soon covering boo-boos and wiping animals with the gauze with such care.

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Travis, meanwhile, was very into the forms and particularly liked recording high temperatures for all his sick patients.

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Pretty soon, he took the game in a whole different direction: it turns out action figures need band-aids, too!

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This had them imagining and playing together so well, making it a big win for a cold winter morning.

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What Can Be a Hat?

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Veronika currently loves a little story from Hello magazine about babies wearing various hats, some that really are hats and some things that simply can be a hat (think baskets, buckets, or even old shoe boxes). That prompted this silly game as I was prepping dinner and needed to keep the kids briefly occupied.

What could they find in the kitchen that could be a hat? Pretty soon, the kids were modeling strainers…

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…and colanders!

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Travis loved that the colander was like a warrior’s helmet.

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Veronika loved looking stylish with the strainer at a jaunty angle! This led them to dig through the dress-up box for other favorite hats and head pieces. All of which meant, everyone was soon laughing and had stopped asking when dinner would be ready.

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What else in the kitchen could be a hat? Please share what your kids come up with in the comments!

Camping Pretend Play

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I have literally been saving this activity for a rainy day (okay, a snowy one, but basically I was waiting for any form of precipitation). I had a never-used camping play set in the closet that included a pop-up tent, fake campfire with plastic s’mores, a lantern, and binoculars. This make-believe camping is the perfect thing to occupy the kids when you have a day too blustery to get outside and camp for real!

I pulled out the set, and from here the idea really was just to let the kids engage in imaginative play. Of course they wanted to climb into the tent right away.

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I wonder what nature treasures Veronika can see through the binoculars!

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The campfire was a big hit, as was the pretend food. Veronika loved slicing at the various sausages and veggies and the kids “roasted” their marshmallows.

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For a little arts & crafts, I printed out camping templates to color in. These featured signs of hikers, a tent label for our “campsite”, and a fire danger warning sign (you can even do a quick review of Smokey Bear while the kids color this one!).

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As a side note, there’s no need purchase a camping set for your kids to enjoy this activity; it just happened to be something in the closet. But any tent (or blankets over chairs!) can be your campsite. For a campfire, use paper towel tubes as the logs and red or orange tissue paper as the flames (tea lights add to the authenticity!).

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Real sticks with cotton balls on the end can be used for s’mores, and two toilet paper tubes taped together become binoculars in an instant.

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Needless to say, this was a great way to imagine we were in the warm camping days of summer while a blizzard raged outside!

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Mailbox Pretend Play

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Veronika is very into Blue’s Clues right now, and her favorite part of each episode is when Mailbox arrives bearing a letter for “mail time”. So today I set her up with her own post office!

To make each “mailbox”, simply fold a piece of construction paper over itself so the bottom half comes about 3/4 of the way up the top half. Staple shut along the sides, leaving the top open to form a pocket for mail deliveries.

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I made one mailbox for each family member (including the cat!) and then taped them up to the wall.

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To make our mail, I gave her an assortment of index cards, old envelopes, and leftover holiday cards. She loved scribbling, but was even more excited when I started drawing a few of the Blue’s Clues characters on envelopes so she could receive mail from them.

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I would hand her each letter and she proudly decided which “mailbox” to slot it into. “Let’s put this one in the purple!” she might say, and narrated the whole process.

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She was so excited pulling letters back out and seeing what she got in the mall!

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This was such easy but fantastic pretend play for a two-year-old. Does your toddler like to play mail delivery? Please share in the comments!

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Pretend Play Tea Party

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Veronika is really starting to enjoy dramatic and pretend play, so today we staged a proper tea party! I thought we might set the scene by dressing her in a fancy dress and shoes…

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…but nope. Veronika wanted to wear a bathing suit! For easy to clean “tea”, I skipped anything liquid and instead used blue crinkle paper (available at craft stores).

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She loves this material, and soon it was brimming out of our tea pot and cups.

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That’s one big pot of coffee she’s brewing!

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She loved stirring through the tea, and of course her dolls all wanted a cup.

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We then added little white pom poms to be sugar cubes, either in the cups or in the sugar bowl.

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Did she always understand the imaginative part of the game? At two years old, of course not. But between the sensory play and the dolls and all those cups to fill and dump out, she had a great time.

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Create a Dramatic Play Library

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One of the things we’ve missed most during the COVID-19 pandemic is going to the library. So on a gray and rainy morning, we brought the library to us!

To set up, I first arranged some of the kids’ books along the couch like it was a display shelf.

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We then printed out a template for Book Return and Book Check-Out signs. The Return sign went on a blue bin, and the Check-Out went on the table along with a remote to “beep” books out (of course!).

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I had intended for the kids to make pretend library cards, but Veronika preferred scribbling all over the template instead of cutting out individual cards. Oh well!

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Only a few final touches were needed now; we love the puzzle corner at the library, so recreated that with some favorite puzzles on the floor, and then set out a few chairs as reading nooks. Time to open the library doors!

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The kids loved browsing.

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Beeping out books was a big highlight! Veronika was still busy coloring but would pause now and then just to “beep!” a book.

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Both kids soon had a cozy nook where they could read or take a book for a picture walk.

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And then of course it was time to put books in the return bin and re-stock the shelves.

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Don’t forget to set up dolls for a storytime! First I read to the dolls…

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…and then Veronika took a turn.

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I loved that this game even inspired Travis to pause and do puzzles, an activity he usually shies away from. For a moment there, I almost could believe we were back in the real library.

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