Impact of Pretend Play

“Let’s pretend:” Words more magical than Abracadabra.

Pretend play is the greatest tool a child has. When children engage in imaginary play there are no limits. As soon as a child utters the words “pretend that…” it doesn’t matter if the next words are “I’m a shark baby”—every child participating in the play provides a platform for that child to be a “shark baby.”  Be it a shark baby, a doctor, a superstar, a mommy or a daddy, a child uses that persona to explore a curiosity, an idea or an emotion.

Children use role-playing to make sense of what they observe. It’s a way to explore an experience that can be scary or confusing. One of the most concrete examples of this is when kids pretend to go to the doctor. When I taught preschool, I was always able to see who was about to have their annual checkup. Right before their appointment, little ones would start engaging in serious doctor play, which ALWAYS involved a shot. The child was always the doctor and I was always the patient.

Warning: I’m totally going to geek out about this and break it down. 

When kids become the doctor, they create a setting where they are in control. As they act out each part of the examination—the stethoscope, checking reflexes, looking in ears and nose—they are reenacting what they are familiar with. They are psyching themselves up for the moment when they have to administer the shot.

I’ve had approximately 700 pretend shots in my life and every one of them is administered the same way: The child tells me that it is going to hurt a little, there is a slight poke of a pretend needle followed by the encouragement that I am “a brave girl,” and then they ask if I want a lollypop.

By the end of the examination, the child is more emotionally prepared for the upcoming appointment. How freaking magical is that?!

The power of pretend doesn’t stop there. Here is a list of all the incredible things that transpire when kids engage in imaginary play.



When kids engage in pretend play they use one object to represent another. This type of default symbolic thought is used in language development—words are symbols. They stand for our thoughts and ideas. Pretend play and language both involve the same underlying ability to represent things symbolically (Weitzman and Greenberg, 2002).

Little ones start engaging in make-believe as soon as they say their first words, around 12-18 months. Children will start to imitate language and behaviors of others. I’ve seen a 15-month-old child hold full phone conversations using a block. As she babbled away saying “Siri,” “mommy,” “play,” and “milk,” she was practicing the language she hears every day. As cute as this is, it gets better. When you engage with a child during pretend you are able to expand their vocabulary. In this case, by picking up a block and holding a conversation with the girl, she was introduced to all kinds of new words as well as practice her back-and-forth communication!


Pretend play often involves cooperative play, when a child plays with others. One thing you can bet on is when multiple children come together in make-believe, there’s going to be some heavy negations. “I’m the mom. You have to be the big sister.” “You were the knight last time! Not fair.” I’ve seen children fighting over who got to be the baby pig. If you can pretend it, you can fight over it. While I’ve seen children brought to tears at the idea of not being the “bus driver,” I’ve also seen kids negotiate with their friends to create an elaborate turn-taking process. The turn taking and share responsibility skills developed during pretend resonate deep with little ones and have lasting power.


Pretend play fosters empathy. It’s true! Have you ever heard the phrase “walk a mile in their shoes”? When kids engage in make-believe that is exactly what they are doing. They are trying out new personas, experimenting with social roles. When they play pretend with other children they are taking into consideration the feelings of others.

Despite all of the wonders pretend offers, it tends to fall out of favor about the age of eight. Some parents even encourage their children to leave the world of pretend, regarding it a phase that should pass. Gasp, I know.

That’s why this October, we’re celebrating all things pretend play—just in time for Halloween.

Green Thumbs Up!

It’s gardening season and if you haven’t started planting seeds in the ground make sure to ask your little one for help. Gardening is a great, amazing, wonderful way to engage in some experiential learning. Through gardening your kiddo will be growing their math, science, fine, and gross motor skills. Did I mention it is a ton of fun? As we all know when fun and learning come together information sticks. Studies show that kids who engage in gardening do better on science tests in elementary school. If your garden is already in full effect no worries, you can still get the kids in on the action. Here are some tips and tricks for gardening with your little farmer.

  •  Ask questions! Why do plants need sun? What are the different parts of the plant? How does a plant drink water? Questions are a great way to insert science! From bugs to flowers ASK QUESTIONS! Not a bug or plant expert? No problem! If you’re not sure of the answer yourself ask your little learner where they think you can find the answer, then look it up together.
  • Make predictions! Ask how big they think each plant will get. Ask how many tomatoes they think they will pick by the end of summer. Make sure that you write their answers down and post it where they are able to see their responses. Providing them opportunities to reflect on their original predictions is super important. It is great for little ones to see that they can alter their final predictions based off running results.
  • Get some math in on the action by having your little one measure the plants once they start to sprout. In one of my classes we had a plant race. We each picked a plant and made “bets” on which would get to a certain height first. While it was the slowest race EVER the kids had a ton of fun and loved measuring the plants every day.
  • Play seed detective! This is one of my favorite games. Have the children examine and sort seeds. I would always pick four different seeds. When selecting your seeds think about different colors, patterns and sizes. Have the children work on sorting them into piles (fine motor and math!) then have them guess what will grow from each variety of seed. One, the answers you get are going to be hilarious. I cannot tell you how many candy plants I’ve had over the years. Two, this is a long exploration. As the plants begin to have distinct features make sure to have plant reference books so they can use the plants “clues” like leaf shape, to figure out what kind of plant it is.

These are just a few of the amazing gardening explorations you can dig up. Please make sure to plant your favorite gardening activity in the comments below!


Best-Ever Books for a Rug Time!

And now, after putting out feelers to the teaching community, I offer you more rug time books that are guaranteed to keep our little ones engaged! These are in no particular order. Enjoy!

Little Nino’s Pizzeria - by Karen Barbour

Art and Max - by David Wiesner

13 Words - by Lemony Snicket

Fortunately – by Remy Charlip

The Mixed Up Chameleon – by Eric Carle

The Gruffalo – by Julia Donaldson

Ain’t Gonna Paint No More – by Karen Beaumont

Quick as a Cricket – by Audrey Wood

One Hungry Monster – by Susan Heyboer

A Soup Opera – by Jim Gill

The Jazz Fly – by Matthew Gollub

Please, Mr. Panda – by Steve Antony

The Day the Crayons Quit – by Drew Daywalt

The Very Busy Spider – by Eric Carle

Little Blue Truck – by Alice Schertle

The Dot – by Peter H. Reynolds

Skippyjon Jones – by Judith Schachner

The Paper Bag Princess – by Robert Munsch

And my personal favorite…….. Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge – by Mem Fox

Warning: Grab a box of tissues

If I missed your personal favorite don’t forget to include it in the comments below... because amazing rug times are No Small Matter.

Mac N Cheese Please!

Are you ready to have the greatest mac-n-cheese ever?!? It may come as a surprise but did you know that children's book author and illustrator Todd Parr is also an amazing cook?! Well, he is! Here is Todd's recipe for the the best mac-n-cheese EVER. 

Let’s start with the ingredients

  • 1 box of pasta (if you use elbow macaroni you can talk about different body parts!! Science!!)
  • 2 cups of cheddar cheese
  • 1 can condensed milk
  • 2TBS butter
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Here’s what you do.

Boil water and cook macaroni. Set aside.

In a separate pot over medium heat add 2 TBS of butter.

When melted add a small handful of the cheddar cheese.

To the cheese and butter add a full can of condensed milk.

Add remaining cheese and turn the heat on low.

Stir continually until the cheese is completely melted.

Add the cheese to the pasta and stir.

WARNING: This will be hot!

Add salt and pepper to taste.

Wanna turn this into a tasty math and science lesson? Here’s how.

Start with the measuring. Have the little ones measure out the butter and cheese. If your child is anything like me make sure to watch them with the cheese (I’m a totally cheese sneeker!) Measuring allows your child to work on quantity, volume, fractions, and one-to-one correspondence.

Boiling the water is a great place to insert some science. You can talk about the properties of water. Ask your little learner what happens when water gets cold and when it gets hot. Ask them to make predictions about what will happen when you add heat. You can even do a time exploration by making predictions about how long they think it will take for the water to boil.

Bring in some more science with the cheese sauce. Discuss how cheese is a solid (another place to insert some science vocabulary). Then ask them what they think will happen when you add the cheese to the heat.

Finally, you can wrap up this mini lesson with setting the table. Have your little one count how many cups, plates, and forks you will need for dinner. Let them set the table and count as they do each place setting.

Sharing a meal is a powerful thing. According to The Family Dinner Project, sharing regular meals with family reduces substance abuse and depression, while promoting higher grade point averages and boosting self-esteem. 

MASSIVE thanks to Todd for sharing his home, his food, and his friendship! Check out Todd Parr for all things Todd! 

                                            -Ms. Giannini

Start With Hello Week


February 6th through 10th is Start With Hello Week. This week is meant to empower young people to create a culture of inclusion and collectiveness. If you visit the Sandy Hook Promise page you can see activities, lessons, and ideas for children in grades 2-12.


This is an amazing message and one that you can do with preschools too. Here are some of my favorite activities and books to encourage friendship, inclusion and acceptance.

Art: Create a mural with a twist. First, the mural doesn’t have to be anything massive. A large piece of paper, enough for at least 5 kids to work on at a time, will work just fine. You also can use any medium you want. From crayons and pencils to loose parts from Dump Day, let the kids select and go at it. Here is where the twist comes in. Create a boundary for the kids to work in. This encourages the children to talk and negotiate the space. What results is amazing communication and a sweet art piece.

Large Motor: Parachute Play! Nothing says team work more than trying to get twenty children to lift a parachute at the same time. Up the ante by adding a ball. Work together to see how high you can toss the ball in the air. Don’t have a parachute? Use a flat sheet.

Rug Time: Have discussions with the little ones about Why we say Hello. Discuss how being greeted makes us feel, and how it feels when we aren’t greeted. You can totally throw in some role playing here! Assign “greeters” for the class.  Have different children everyday say, “good morning” to each child as they enter the space. Throw in some languages by teaching them a different way to say hello each day.

Math: Have the kids keep a tally of how many people they said “hi” to. You may want to keep a time limit on this. For example; how many people they said hi to at recess.


Okay, this is a little sneaky but it is awesome! Bring out a new puzzle the children have never seen. Something large but not too large, think under 30 pieces. No matter how big the puzzle is you are going to take out 1 piece. Have the children work in groups to complete the puzzle. When they discover that the puzzle cannot be completed have them come up with ideas on how to solve the problem as a class. I’ve had kids come up with scavenger hunts (which lead to a massive 2-month exploration on pirates), to making a new piece and then problem solving how they can create the piece to fit exactly. Please do this and tell me in the comments how it goes!

Books: These are just a few of some amazing books you can read with you class on the topics of friendship, inclusion, acceptance.

The Big Book of Families by Mary Hoffman

It’s Okay to be Different by Todd Parr

Say Hello by Rachel Isadora

Teaching While Tattooed

I have tattoos. A lot of tattoos. While I have always taught my students to not "judge a book by its cover", looking at me sleeveless you might assume I was a hooligan, a vagabond, anything but than a preschool teacher. When I first started teaching I covered my art. I was afraid of being seen in a different light, criticized, and worse, my ability to educate a child put in into question. I remember the first time a parent saw my art slip out from under my sleeve. I could see the internal conflict in her eyes. Judge this woman who her child raves about, or accept the idea that a “Ms. Honey” may be rocking a full sleeve? After a moment she stared into my eyes and whispered, “I’ve always wanted a tattoo.” From that moment I decided I was going to embrace my decision to adorn my body and show off my tattoos. Little did I know the decision to show off my art would lead to one of my favorite classroom explorations ever.

With sleeves rolled up I felt like I entered the classroom for the first time. I was nervous, not so much about the parents, but about what the kids would say. Quickly, my tattoos became a topic at rug time. “Are those tattoos?” “Will they wash off?” “Did you draw those this morning?” “How did they do that?” “Did it hurt?” The children’s interest in my art didn’t stop there. As a progressive classroom, the children’s play was the driving force in our theme of study. Much to my surprise the children began to play "tattoo shop". Not wanting to pass up the richness of this topic, we dove in. (Keep in mind the parents were completely aware of this new exploration, and to my pleasant surprise were really excited! ) If one student decided to get a tattoo, they needed a good reason why and they were required to do the art themselves or “pay” an artist for their work. Their desired art and motivation was then pinned on a wall in the “tattoo shop”, aka the loft. After a day the child was asked again if they wanted to still get the tattoo or make changes. With the day-long waiting period passed, the art would be transferred onto a sheet of temporary tattoo paper and applied. During that rug they would tell the rest of the class about their tattoo and the meaning behind it. The tattoo limit was one a week. It was amazing. The children took great pride in their art. They excitedly showed it off at recess, and spoke endlessly about their ink to anyone who listened.

I learned so much about my children that year. While, I’ve been close to all my classes, this particular group was different. Through their art I discovered what they valued, what experiences resonated with them, the beauty they found in the world. It was truly inspiring. They made me think about the purpose of my own tattoos. Why did I get them? If forced to have a day waiting period would I have still gotten them? What do they say about me and what I value?

My tattoos tell my story — my adventures, my success and failures, moments of healing, of courage and strength. They are a part of me and I will never cover them up again.