How to promote different types of play
The drama corner
• A dress-up trunk is essential. Stafford recommends including gowns, adult T-shirts, hats, neckties, vests, gloves, old costumes, plus plenty of bling — necklaces, bangles, crowns and hair ornaments. Towels and blankets can also be used in various ways (superhero cape, for example). Rummage through second-hand stores for supplies.
• Props also help with dramatic play. You can have a play kitchen with pretend food and plastic dishes, battle scenes with toy swords for knights or pirates, a doctor’s office with stethoscopes and bandages, or a pup tent with sleeping bags and flashlights for kids who want to play “camping.”
• A large mirror on the wall allows children to admire themselves.
• Set up your camcorder on a tripod and run a cable to the TV. Your child can then perform while you (or your other kids) watch.
• Use a large cardboard box to make a puppet theatre. Just cut a large square hole in the top half of the front, and a smaller one in the back where the junior puppeteers can enter. Hang a curtain inside the stage to hide the young performers. Make puppets out of socks or let them use dolls and stuffed animals to act out the stories. (Do not expect much in the way of plots!)
The music corner
• Build a collection of simple instruments (tambourines, drums, xylophones, etc.) to encourage children to explore music. If you play an instrument, encourage them to play along with you in a freewheeling improv session.
• Play a variety of music, including classical, jazz, blues and music from around the world.
The building corner
• “You can’t do better than a good supply of basic wooden blocks,” says Stafford. If you have basic woodworking skills, you may be able to cut up scrap wood, sand the pieces smooth, and make your own block collection.
• Building toys such as Lego and Brio can also inspire creative building. Try to avoid the “build it this way” kits and scout garage sales for collections of random Lego blocks instead.
• Collect the cardboard tubes from toilet paper rolls and paper towels, Styrofoam packing materials, cardboard boxes of all shapes and sizes, and other items that might otherwise be thrown out to add to your child’s building materials.
A book nook
• Keep a collection of interesting books handy — check your local library for discarded books for sale.
• Help your child gather props and act out the story.
• Encourage your child to paint a picture of what happened in the story.
• Ask your child to tell you a story next. If you’re feeling ambitious, help your child make his own book. What we say to our children about play is as important as the environment. “Let your child take the lead,” says Reid. “When adults tell children how to play — it’s not play.”
The importance of creative play
Creative play is valuable for preschoolers, says Reid, because it:
• promotes problem solving
• develops critical and abstract thinking
• enhances kids’ vocabularies and verbal skills
• develops important social skills