Research has shown repeatedly that pretend play is highly beneficial for kids from the ages of 2-6 years old.
Pretend play lets kids learn about themselves and the world, and helps them develop complex thinking skills and emotional intelligence.
Pretend play also helps kids work through confusing situations, and provides a great opportunity for teaching kids about scary situations like natural disasters and conflicts.
1. Earthquake and fire drill
If you live in an earthquake zone, I strongly recommend you explain to your child what to do during an earthquake, for e.g. hide under a table and protect your head.
This is useful even for young children. I’ve taught my two-year-old how to hide under a table and cover her head when I yell “earthquake”.
Not in an earthquake zone? Your child will still benefit from fire drills and learning how to behave during an emergency.
This is also a good time to educate your child on smoke detectors and how they work.
See here for more tips on conducting a family fire safety drill.
2. Simulate a power outage
Power outages can be a scary and jarring experience for kids.
Lessen their anxiety by simulating a power outage and showing them how to behave during one.
Turn off all the lights and teach your child how to operate a flashlight.
Go one step further and prepare a meal without using electricity. For e.g. prepare peanut butter sandwiches and snack on non-perishables like raisins and nuts.
Show your kid how to use the potty when it’s dark.
Put together an emergency preparedness kit and explain to your child what each item in the kit does.
3. At the laundromat
Make your own washer and dryer with cardboard boxes!
Cut out holes in the boxes (or use empty tissue boxes) and stuff doll clothes or small linens in it.
Label the boxes as “Washer” and “Dryer” and instruct your child to add some pretend laundry soap to it and to fold the clothes when it’s dry.
If only real-life laundry was this fun!
4. Indoor camping
This is a great role playing game for kids of all ages on wet days.
We like to pack a backpack with our camping gear, then turn off all the lights and set cushions around a “campfire”.
Then we’ll break out the flashlights and pretend to roast marshmallows and “cook” on the campfire.
We’ll also make fishing rods (chopsticks + string) for some “river fishing” and then settle down for “star gazing”.
Don’t forget to pass out the oven s’mores and hot chocolate.
5. Build a fort
Who doesn’t love this rainy day activity?
Gather up all your cushions, blankets and chairs and create the most magnificent fort ever!
Use flashlights to cuddle up under the fort.
Or build two forts and start a battle!
6. Toy tea time
One of my tot’s favorite rainy day pastimes is to gather up all her stuffed toys and dolls for a tea party.
It’s super cute to watch her sip and chat to her toys!
7. Hair salon
Bring out some hair brushes, toy scissors, towel, hair rollers, mirror, hair washing chair and sink (regular plastic box will do) to set up a hair salon!
Your child will love pretending to cut, style and wash your hair!
Take turns playing hairstylist and customer!
8. Birthday tea party
Host a birthday party for a doll or stuffed toy.
Make it an all-day affair by putting up streamers and decorations.
Make everyone birthday hats, and let your child help bake a cake or cupcakes.
Don’t forget to blow out the candles and take pictures!
9. Honor a hero
Time for a history lesson!
Learn about the life of a hero (Martin Luther King Jr., Helen Keller, Gandhi) and discuss their achievements.
Show your kid photos of the hero and serve his or her favorite food. For e.g. celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. by serving Southern food (his favorite food was reportedly pecan pie).
Click here to read more about what famous people ate.
10. Dress up fun
Hand out scarves, hats (winter and sun), costume jewelry and watch your kids transform themselves into firefighters and fairies.
Let them parade in front of the mirror and pose for the camera.
11. Sail away
It’s time to sail the Seven Seas!
Turn a laundry basket or cardboard box into a sail boat and let your kid play pirate!
Don’t forget a bandana and eye patch for your little pirate! Make teddy bear the first mate!
Get creative and make a paper plate compass and a paper towel roll telescope! Your child will love this incredible make-believe adventure!
Turn it into a teaching moment: tell them about the 4 major oceans of the world (Pacific, Atlantic, Indian and Arctic).
12. Fancy restaurant
Lay a tablecloth on the table and set out some silverware and play food items, and pretend you are at a fancy restaurant!
Pick a type of restaurant (Mexican, steakhouse), play some appropriate background music, and make up a menu.
While you are at it, create a simple chef’s hat, dollar bills and take turns playing the customer, waiter and chef.
Demonstrate real life problems: set up unpleasant scenarios like getting the food order wrong and spilling drinks.
Explain how to deal with these problems.
This will show them the roles each person (chef, waiter, customer) plays at a restaurant.
13. Valet parking fun
Turn a cardboard box into a parking garage for toy cars!
Use a marker to draw parking spaces and cut out small doors for the garage exit and entrance.
Your kid will love driving their cars into the garage and parking at the spaces.
Tell them about valet parking and how it works.
Turn this into a matching game: label the cars and parking spaces (e.g. 1, 2, 3, 4…) and instruct your child to park the cars in the corresponding spaces.
14. Make your own musical instruments
Turn empty coffee cans into bongo drums and fill plastic bottles with beans to turn them into shakers.
Sing songs and let them drum and shake to the tune of a song.
15. Stage a puppet show
Make simple finger puppets or popsicle stick puppets and tell a story with them.
My tot’s favorite is Three Little Pigs, and The Tortoise and the Hare.
Older kids can also dress up, make their own props and stage their very own play!