How to Survive Pretend Play


COVID-19 has made its way into Ohio and everything around us seems to be shutting down or closing, including K-12 schools. This also means many of the preschool programs in the area are on hiatus too.

While my daughter’s preschool is a standalone facility, I find myself religiously checking her school app for an update so my “always need a plan” self can adapt as needed. 

The Scariest Part of the Shut Down

If it does close, I need to prepare myself for her incessant need to transform our home into a fairytale world.

Let me just say… I don’t love pretend-play. I won’t say I hate it because I don’t. My daughter’s “my way or the highway” mentality just puts a damper on things pretty quickly. Sure it’s going to help her mold into a strong independent human being, but I couldn’t tell you how many times I’ve had “come to Jesus” moments over it.

As a mom who works from home, it’s really hard to find balance when you’re on deadline and you have a four-year-old impatiently waiting to play princesses together.

Don’t get me wrong, I love spending time with her but there are only so many times I can handle playing princesses only to be told I’m doing it all wrong.

Here’s a photo of Queen Elsa for a little perspective.

I know I’m not alone in this, so for all my preschool mamas who aren’t sure how they’ll survive these next few weeks… I’ve got you.

The Secret to Enjoying Pretend Play

I would first like to preface this with the fact that I am not a pretend-play expert. There are still moments where I count down the seconds until daddy comes home. However, I’ve been through it enough to find ways to make this essential part of child development more enjoyable.

  1. Integrate it with Stories

You can travel to where the wild things are with Max and cause a wild rumpus. You can imagine your own world with Harold and his crayon. Even the man in the yellow hat would be excited to adventure with you. The possibilities are truly endless here.

Literacy is a huge part of my life and I have strived to instill a love of reading in my girls since their births. Some of my favorite pretend-play memories as a kid were acting out scenes from books and movies, so it’s only fitting to carry that over to my own children.

  1. Fashion Shows

If your little ones have an extensive dress-up collection as we do, doing a pretend-play fashion show can help shake some sillies out and instill confidence while they’re at it. I use this one a lot when I’m coming up on deadlines because I can take advantage of time during her wardrobe changes. 

While my preschooler is choosing her first showcase look, usually some Disney princess hybrid, I throw a playlist on Spotify. This sets the mood for her as she dances down the hallway.

  1. Use Manipulatives

As someone who thoroughly enjoys working with their hands, I like to keep manipulatives like building blocks and LEGO available. These do typically come with instructions to follow, but the amazing thing about these toys is that you can build anything you want.

On any given day, you’ll find princess castles, family homes, and entire towns made from building blocks in our house. I like building the set with my daughter and then letting her play in them with her dolls and action figures on her own.

Doing this gives us the time we need to bond and also teaches her how to play well by herself too.

  1. Give Them a Box

Yes, you read that right. Have you ever spent an obscene amount of time (and sometimes money) searching for the newest and best toy your child just HAD to have? Did your child prefer the toy’s box over the actual item? Guilty.

A cardboard box and some art supplies have the potential to provide an entire day’s worth of fun for the whole family. These boxes are airplanes and busses. They’re super top secret spy bases and little fairy cottages.

Not to mention they’re recyclable once they get too battered to play with anymore!

  1. Make a Game of it

If your littles are as high-energy as mine, sitting still for a while is incomprehensible. Obstacle courses with detailed backstories are a super fun way to incorporate pretend play into other physical play aspects.

Let your child take the lead and set the scene. Then, you can help fill in the details. Will you conquer a hot lava field? Perhaps you’re on a top-secret mission to save the crown princess. Maybe YOU are the crown princess, trying to escape from your kidnappers.

Let your imaginations run wild with this one (literally).

Don’t Underestimate Your Imagination

Pretend play doesn’t have to be that daunting activity you dread every morning. All it takes is a little bit of patience and a healthy dose of imagination. Channel your inner child and be present with your kiddo. After all, these no-school days are just as hard on them as they are on you mama.

You got this.


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