The past few months have been something out of a movie for most people, especially parents. It’s still surreal that children suddenly had to stop going to school physically and start distance learning or homeschooling immediately.
With no end to the pandemic in sight yet, kids and families have to continue staying at home together as much as possible.
One way to pass time, and keep sane, during quarantine is to plan fun activities for kids to keep busy at home.
The Benefits of Pretend Play
A popular (and beneficial) way to play, quarantine or not, is pretend play.
Among the benefits of pretend play are the following – pretend play helps children develop an appreciation for relationships with others, improves emotional competence, and contributes to cognitive development.
More than being an educational activity, and most importantly, it’s a great way to encourage warm interactions between families.
Especially now when tensions can run high by being together 24/7 plus with the added challenge of homeschooling, pretend play is a good way to blow off some steam and just have fun together, without any expectations.
Way Kids Can Pretend Play During Quarantine:
1. Play Kitchens and Pretend Food
Children love to imitate grownups, and more often than not, many kids see their parents or caregivers preparing food and cooking in the kitchen.
It’s common to see kids busily pretend to chop, mix, stir, and cook. You’ll probably be served “strawberry ice cream with chocolate, blueberries, sprinkles and marshmallows” or “burgers with whipped cream” by your 4 year old when he’s pretending to cook.
Even from simple interactions like this, your child is also building his vocabulary and working on his socio-emotional skills.
You don’t need a lot of toys to do this type of pretend play – a few pots and pans, and maybe some pretend wooden or plastic food, will do.
If you have the extra space and some extra money to spend, a great addition to any home would be a play kitchen. This type of toy can give additional hours of entertainment to your child and at the same time, give parents a welcome break from having to entertain their kids 24/7.
A play kitchen expands your child’s pretend play opportunities – he can be a chef baking a cake, a chef whipping up a gourmet meal, a mom feeding her baby or taking orders as a server – the possibilities are endless.
2. Build a Fort
Another great way to pretend play at home is to build a fort.
No doubt about it, all kids love forts!
Whether it’s a simple fort on the couch using a few pillows, or a more elaborate one using bedsheets, chairs, and blankets, the experience of building and going inside a fort is something all children enjoy.
Building a blanket fort is a fun, screen-free activity that can also help make your child smarter.
Fort-building also encourages pretend play because it involves the imagination and creating stories about what they’re doing. This helps develop and grow verbal skills and encourages creativity as well.
“This is my castle and you’re a dragon who’s attacking me!” might just be one of the storylines your child comes up with.
You can help your child’s cognitive and verbal skills develop even more and extend playing with the fort by asking questions about it –
“What area is this?”
“What is your fort made of?”
“What else is inside your fort?”
This will also help encourage interactions between you and your child.
During quarantine, it’s important to make sure that children have ample opportunities to play and have fun. Building a fort is a great way to ensure this.
3. Mud Play
Mud play, or muddy play, can be defined as “any form of outdoor play that directly involves mixing soil and water to make mud cakes or squelching feet in a mud pit.”
Families with gardens, or even small yards, can definitely include mud play into their quarantine routine.
Though some parents have reservations about allowing their children to get dirty, mud play has many benefits for children.
One benefit of mud play is that it teaches children how to internalize routines because it gives them the opportunity to “replay their own experiences and then process, understand, and internalize them.”
When kids play outside, they need to follow a routine that they might have learned in school first – put on boots, go outside, wait for mom, play, and then wash hands.
When they keep on repeating the same routine in different situations, it helps them learn them and follow them in other situations as well.
This is just one amazing benefit this type of pretend play can bring
Mud play also falls under pretend play because it is open-ended and encourages children to use their imagination and creativity.
Children can literally make “mud pies” and pretend to serve them to each other. They can pretend to be animals stomping and splashing around in the mud. They can even be gardeners that are planting and tending to plants and flowers.
When they play outside and they experience a new environment, they also learn to become more confident.
At first a child might be wary of playing in mud, especially if their parents always tell them to stay clean and not get dirty. It might take time for them to get used to playing with mud.
However, after a while they learn to become more comfortable in this new situation, especially if their mom or dad is there to encourage them, and of course, play with them.
The confidence they gain during mud play carries itself to other situations later on.
4. Play Dress Up
This is always a tried-and-tested fun way to play that kids love. Kids always get a thrill putting on costumes and pretending to be someone else.
We’ve all seen that child in the grocery store wearing his Iron Man suit or her Elsa princess dress.
This is a big part of childhood and pretend play.
The great thing about this is that you don’t need to buy anything new or prepare special materials for your kids to play dress up.
Any activity that doesn’t involve lots of prep is always a plus, especially during quarantine.
One way to encourage playing dress up is to fill up a bin or a box with accessories that kids can freely choose from. You can put in different scarves, hats, old tops, toy masks, gloves, and more.
Basically, anything that you think your child would like to put on as a costume and start pretending to be someone else.
They can mix and match the accessories until they come up with their very own character.
Large scarves and shawls are wonderful because they are open-ended and can be turned into almost anything – Darth Vader’s cape, a princess dress, a caveman.
The only limit is your child’s imagination.
5. Story Time
Of course, story time between kids and parents is a staple activity during quarantine. Whether before bedtime, or in the middle of the day, reading and story time would be part of a family’s everyday routine.
Story time is another great way to encourage your child to use his imagination, which is an essential part of pretend play.
Another important thing about reading together is that it can also be used as downtime for parents and children. It can be a welcome pocket of time during the day that requires everyone to sit down and slow down.
Nowadays, technology and screen time is slowly becoming the activity of choice every day.
Yes, technology can definitely be helpful and educational, but there is really no substitute for reading a book. Story time is also a great bonding activity between parents and children.
Reading allows your child to explore and create his own images and stories in his head. Even if two people read the exact same story, the images they conjure up will be different from each other and this is a wonderful part of reading and stories.
Parents and children can discuss the different scenes and characters they imagine to make the experience even more engaging.
When parents need a break, then technology can help out. There are lots of YouTube videos of story time that can substitute for reading when needed.
This shouldn’t replace real-life reading together but it is definitely not a bad thing to utilize screen time once in a while. This also doesn’t make you a bad parent.
Pretend Play is Important
Pretend play is truly an essential and important part of childhood and should be encouraged as much as possible – even during quarantine.
It’s a great way to develop your child’s cognitive, emotional, and verbal skills.
It’s also a great way for families to build their relationships with each other.
Studies have shown that parental involvement affects the success of their children in the future. This goes both for school work and for everyday play activities.
Parents should try their best to spend quality time with their children as much as they can, and this quarantine might just be the perfect time for that.