I love to play with children. These days I spend a lot of time playing with my 3 grandchildren and it is so much fun watching them become more sophisticated ‘players’ all the time. The twins are almost 17 months old now and they love to hold a phone to their ear and chatter words they’ve heard their parents say. They love to bring a bowl and spoon from their play kitchen and feed anyone who is willing to appreciatively munch their imaginary food. They take anything resembling a car and push it along on the floor saying “zoom, zoom.”
Owen is in a stage of constant discovery and experimentation. “I wonder what would happen if …” is the way he approaches playing with anything from mixing colors to stacking blocks. Of course they are very well supplied with all kinds of play materials – we do our part to support Fisher Price, Mattel and Little Tykes.
For many years I tried to encourage my kindergarten students in their play too. I loved to set up play centers in my classroom. I spent a lot of time going to places in our community to collect/borrow/buy materials that would transform my play center into McDonalds, a travel agency, or a fix it shop. But I learned that less is often more! I would set up a darling, realistic play center and the kids would be so excited to go there, but sometimes I was a little disappointed with how the children would play. Sometimes when I supplied many realistic props the children would lose interest more quickly than when they had the opportunity to use their own imaginations and pretend a little more. I think it’s great to set the theme of a play center with some materials, but when the children create props or use things from around the room they are usually much more engaged and involved in their play.
There is an important connection between pretend play and reading. When children use one item to represent another, they are building a foundation that helps them understand how a letter represents a sound. Of course they are also developing wonderful language skills as well as problem solving, motor skills and so much more.
I have a tub full of generic things that my Kindergartners loved to use.
There is nothing special about the particular things I put in this box, I just collected some generic things from around my house that I thought the children might use in fun, interesting ways. It really doesn’t matter what you use, but here are some ideas of things my kids enjoyed.
The children used these hoses and tubes in lots of ways. They were fire hoses, astronaut air tubes, car washing hoses or even elephant trunks. There is no right or wrong way (except to be safe) to use these materials. Sometimes I would get involved in playing with the children and pull out something from the box to pretend with, and that often encouraged them to use this stuff in lots of fun ways.
Funnels were used as telephones or megaphones. The red thing is a heavy wire covered in rubber that can be twisted into shapes. The black thing was an old unused car ashtray that the kids used in some creative ways.
Here are some sponges, an old remote control, a frisbie and a bean bag ball.
Empty containers and old telephones are always popular too!
The children would find materials from around the classroom to use, too – like extra headphones from our listening center or clipboards from the writing center.
My husband helped me take some of these generic things and attach them to a triangle shaped peg board that he put together for me. This was used as a Mission Control board when we studied outer space, and a count down for race cars during transportation. They used this in lots of other ways – the film container attached to the springy cord was often a microphone for a recording studio!
I originally spray painted this box and cut the slit in the top to use as a mail box, and it served well for many years. It was also used as a suggestion box, a math game, and lots of other things the kids thought up.
I made this pretend television set many years ago. Sometimes the children stood behind it and pretended to be actors or weather forecasters. Other times I supplied paper taped onto dowels that the kids used to draw a story. The dowels slipped into the sides of the box and when they turned them their pictures “scrolled” across the opening.
If you have had a chance to look around my blog you probably saw pictures of the cars I made out of xerox boxes.
One of the most popular things in my classroom was this bench with a steering wheel that my husband put together. Three or four children could sit on it at a time and it transformed from a bench to a car, plane, bus, train … and even more. My little ones are loving it now too – so far Owen is always the driver, and he never forgets to turn around and pretend to fasten my seatbelt when I “ride” behind him.
We all know that when young children open a gift they are often more excited about playing with the box! Maybe you can find some things around your house that can be turned into exciting play props too!