Your Family Today

Kids think that playing “supermarket” and dress-up is fun; child development experts know it’s much more than that. Pretend play is a learning experience for young children. It lets them explore the world around them and experiment with social and emotional roles. It also boosts problem-solving skills. So pick up a wand or sword, put on a cape and get into your child’s fantasy world. Who knows, you might just have fun yourself!

Here are some new additions to old-fashioned make-believe games that you can enjoy together:

Teacher knows best

If you plan on playing the role of teacher in this game, take a notebook and write out the entire make-believe school day, class by class, to mimic a typical academic schedule. Tell your child the rules in your classroom and remind him it’s important to be on time. You can even use a small bell to signal the beginning and end of each period. In addition to the "classroom," you can create a "library" in the living room and a "cafeteria" in your kitchen.

Bonus lesson:

Turn the tables and have your child teach you. Let him make up his own rules, but then ask him what he’d do if you broke one of them. Act it out together.

Dinner is served

Before beginning the dinner game, give your child the thrill of creating a personalized menu from scratch! It's a fun arts-and-crafts project that will help teach organization. Go through your mail and newspapers and put aside any articles or ads that include images of food. Then give your child the collection along with cardboard paper, magic markers, glue and a safe pair of scissors. Be sure to supervise the process, but allow that young, creative mind to lead the way!

Blue-light special:

After you order your food, tell your “waitress” that you’d like to change your order. When the food comes, tell her you don’t like it and want something else. See how she handles your unexpected demands.

Shop till you drop

The more authentic you can make this game, the more your child will love it! Save a few empty cereal boxes and wash out some used cans to use for merchandise. Let your child organize the groceries by category on designated "shelves." Then find a large bin and fill it with ice: You can create a frozen foods section by moving a few items from your freezer to the cold bin. And don't forget a hand-held shopping basket! You can create one by taking an empty plastic bin and firmly taping a shoestring or strong yarn to both sides for a handle.

Two-for-one deal:

Turn shopping into a counting and sorting game. Pretend your child works at the supermarket, and you are his boss. Have him sort the food by kind: fruit, breakfast foods, meat, etc. Have him count how many of each there are.

No place like home

Playing “house” can be an even greater learning experience if you incorporate a household "problem" to solve. Invent a scenario in which the family pet is missing, the house is running low on food or the sink is full of dirty dishes. See how they react. Be sure to work with them until they come up with the right course of action on their own.

New addition:

Show your child how to do household tasks -- such as washing dishes or folding laundry -- through pantomime. The beauty of make-believe is that you’ll never end up with spots on the dishes or wrinkles in the clothing!

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