How To Tie In Your Child’s Favorite Book With Pretend Play
by Meredith Bartolo Pappas
Play can help children immerse themselves into stories they have heard before, which, in turn, will allow them a chance to understand the stories better, and give kids a stronger cognitive and pre-reading foundation. All that to say, play can help children become better readers.
Connecting reading to play is an essential part of raising a reader. Play is often how children learn best; it is the thing they need to explore the world, try out new ideas, and practice familiar situations. It helps children expand their thought processes in many different ways and learn new skills through hands-on experiences.
Here are easy ways to tie in your child’s favorite books with pretend play.
Set up their favorite book with a playscape that resembles the story, and use the book as a backdrop so your child can really feel like they are part of the story. Small figurines that resemble the characters from the story, blocks or toys that can be the story environment, and any other details that you can think to add will help round out the play.
Setting things up in a designated area, like a small table or on a baking tray, will make the play seem inviting and comfortable, but if your child likes to spread out you can make a larger world, like on a special rug or floor space.
Adding bigger materials, like large wooden blocks and stuffed animals, can help make a big space still feel like a cozy and familiar story.
Take It Outside:
Reading a book about birds or foxes? Grab some binoculars and head outside! You can become the characters of the books while in their own natural environment or expand the story by listening for birdsongs, looking for birds in flight, or exploring the land as if you were a fox. But getting outside isn’t the only way to mimic the environment of the story.
If your child has a favorite book that includes a cave or tree fort, why not build one inside the house using pillows and blankets? Love reading about the woods, but live in a city far away from trees? No problem! Just cut some tree shapes out of large paper and tape them to the wall using painters tape to create a wooded area.
There are so many different ways to make your environment resemble the one in the story, and once you set the scene they will be more inclined to act it out in their play.
If there is a book about dinosaurs on rotation in your house, get a bin or basket, fill it with dinosaur puppets, and leave it on a small table next to the book. If you don’t have any puppets, make simple ones out of socks or paper bags, or use stuffed or toy animals instead. Or do shadow puppets! They are always a hit and easy to make with cardstock, cardboard, and sticks.
Most kids don’t need any kind of puppet theater or curtain to set the stage, but if you want to make the puppet show more of a production, cardboard boxes will be rescued once again! Or you can use a small table with a cloth over it; our child can be behind the cloth while the puppets dance on top of the table.
Play dough, sand, water, or any sensory material, can really add to a story, especially for tactile learners. Adding story-based details like characters, trees, buildings, and more to a sensory bin can help create story-rich worlds and are beneficial for building focus and fine-motor skills.
For some children, sensory play is also a great foundation for building play foundations as sand, water, or play dough are often already familiar and engaging materials, so adding in a well-known story just enhances the play experience.
If your child doesn’t really enjoy sensory play, you can try this activity out during bath time instead.
Though art projects aren’t always pretend play activities, you can have open-ended art projects that enhance a story in different ways. Making art based on a story or character, or art that can be built into a storyscape can really help children think about different ways to be creative with story environments or with acting out a story.
Having some costumes available so your child can take on their favorite character is always fun! They don’t have to be elaborate, or even accurate most of the time; cardboard boxes, paint, and fabric can do wonders for costume making. Have a bin or box at the ready with costume materials and let them put together their own idea of what the character looks like so they can really embody the story.
Reading the story before and after setting up these kinds of activities can help boost your child’s pretend play experiences. If it’s a favorite book, you have probably already read it many times and they know the story well so they can recognize the setup in the play activity without any further prompting.
Sometimes children will take to these kinds of “story stretchers” right away, but even if they don’t you can try different variations of them multiple times to see which one resonates. Maybe it’s with a different story or a different medium, maybe they want to play with you or have these as independent play. However you tie in your child’s favorite book with pretend play it will be a good time, all while helping them to build their pre-reading skills and cognition. Win-win!
About Meredith Bartolo Pappas
Meredith is a licensed teacher with almost twenty years of experience in education. Her specialties are holistic learning, early literacy, and social-emotional development. She is also a reading specialist, artist, and mom of two. She loves all things bookish, magical, and cozy. Find her at Sharing Circle Education sharingcircleeducation.com and on Instagram @sharingcircleeducation.