Play & Learning: A Few of My Favorite Things for Dramatic Play

So far, I have shared my favorite toys & activities for manipulative play & physical play. Today, I am going to continue sharing some of my favorite tools and activities for dramatic play! Whereas manipulative and physical play are focused on motor skills, facilitating dramatic play is a little different because now we're talking about sparking the imagination and some higher level cognitive (thinking) skills.


I love dramatic play. Stimulating a child's imagination feels magical. Children can be so creative; you never know what they're going to come up with! But you are sure to have a great time and make memories that will last a life time!

For dramatic play, be prepared to use all the things you were thinking you'd be throwing away. This includes any bottles, boxes, or well used storage containers. These are going to be the tools. On the other hand, you could just buy some great props. I'll be including several dramatic play ideas and a variety of tools to complete each activity! You pick what works for you- might be somewhere in between!

Great Ideas & Tools for Dramatic Play:

Life Over C's

Life Over C's

Photo by Amy at Serving Pink Lemonade Blog

Photo by Amy at Serving Pink Lemonade Blog

  • Farm: A great pretend play activity for the little ones! Mom can serve as the farmer while the kiddos get to pretend to be different animals. For the youngest ones, it might be a good idea for Mom to model pretending to be the animal and allowing them to imitate. You can practice animal sounds and names!
    • Grab What You Have: You can show pictures of animals on the iPad or computer. Then use these free printables (Life Over C's) to make masks and pretend to be all the farm animals!
    • Pre-Made Resources: Pick up some farm animal masks. You can find really cheap options (these are currently $6) with a variety of animal faces!
  • Superheros: I think this is one of the first dramatic play activities a lot of children pick up. Maybe this is because our culture has a plethora to choose from right now or maybe because "flying" (aka running through the house) is so much fun with a cape and a mask! 
    • Grab What You Have: Grab your pillow cases or towels and clothes pins so they can serve as your capes. Then make masks using paper plates & markers or crayons! Kids will feel very proud of their custom-made mask!
    • Pre-Made Resources: If you're looking for a simple resource you can always have on hand, Amazon has some excellent options! Check out this 5-pack of superhero costumes!
  • Doctor: Playing doctor is a favorite at our house! Apparently, I'm an invalid because my son is always asking, "Mommy, your head hurt?" He goes to get his doctor kit and is all set to cure whatever ails me!
    • Grab What You Have: Mom's white button up shirt works well for a doctor's coat (or pick up one from Miracle Hill). Use the couch as the examination table, and set up 2 chairs with some books for the waiting area. Here is a fun DIY stethoscope by Serving Pink Lemonade! How cute is that???  Prescribe some M&Ms, and you're on your way to a healthy recovery!
    • Pre-Made Resources: Fisher Price Makes a great medical kit that includes the doctor's coat, doctor's bag, stethoscope, blood pressure cuff with "working" pump, thermometer, syringe, and bandage. Check is out here on Amazon!
  • Lemonade Stand: If you're having a yard sale this spring, help your child set up a real lemonade stand! We did this last year when my son was 2, and he loved it! It took a good bit of assistance from me, and I'm pretty sure he spilled as much lemonade as he sold. He also drank the majority of lemonade and ate his fair share of chocolate chip cookies. We had a ball! After we had our real lemonade stand, we continued having make believe lemonade stands in our play room! 
    • Grab What You Have: Take 2 chairs and throw a sheet over them to make your stand. Have your child have you draw your sign using whatever paper and markers you have on hand. If you have cookie mix or dough, throw some together! Or use play food if your already have that. Grab some cups and some lemonade (or plan water). Now you're all set! For us, half the fun is mixing the lemonade and making cookies (most of the time it's a mix; I'm not typically the bake from scratch Mom). My kids are so proud of their creations!
    • Pre-Made Resources: There are so many options out these for pre-made lemonade stands. I'll share 3 with you:
      • Melissa & Doug Lemonade Stand- This is a fun addition if you're looking for a bigger and permanent piece for your play room. I love all the little bins, and it doubles as a grocery store!
      • HIDEABOO Easy Lemonade Stand Bundle- This has a nice table cover (for card table) that also serves as your sign and price tag, cute apron, and straws.
      • Sassafras Lemonade Stand Kit- This kit full of fun includes lemonade mix, sugar cookie mix, cookie cutter, wooden spoon, paper hat, paper price sheet, paper banner, recipe and instructions.
Melissa & Doug Lemonsade Stand

Melissa & Doug Lemonsade Stand

HIDEABOO Easy Lemonade Stand Bundle

HIDEABOO Easy Lemonade Stand Bundle

Sassafras Lemonade Stand Kit

Sassafras Lemonade Stand Kit

I Hope you enjoy these! What dramatic play activities do your children like to engage in?

Play & Learning: My Favorite Things for Physical Play

Last week I shared toys for manipulative play. This week I am going to continue sharing some of my favorite things with you! This time we are looking at toys for physical play!  Get ready to move!!!

Great Toys for Physical Play:

  • Balls While a ball is a favorite toy for me (and all the kiddos I work with) I do not have a favorite ball. It depends on the child I'm working with, their developmental skills, and their personality. There are balls with rivets that can help with sensory issues, balls that light up, ball that are huge, balls that are small. You pick! The one I'm sharing with you here is great for sensory due to the rivets, light weight, but it can also be stretched! Lots of fun things, but it's also $10. A child can have just a much fun with a ball from the dollar store.
  • Catch Me Crabbie How adorable is this crab?!? My aunt actually bought this toy for my daughter. I loved it so much, I've bought 2 more for Tiny Feet. Haha! When you press the button on his head, he plays a jingle & goes crawling across your floor. This is such a great gross motor activity! I use it with babies and toddlers, whether we're reaching for the toy, crawling, walking, or running after him! The activation button is great for cause and effect as well!
  • Pop Up Tunnel Kids love crawling in, crawling through and playing games such as peek-a-boo. Really the possibilities are as endless as your imagination. We pretend to be fish swimming in the river or a truck going through a tunnel. I use this with my crawlers, but the older kiddos love it as well! If you turn it vertically and hold it in place, your child can practice seeing how high her or she can jump!
  • Melissa & Doug Chomp & Clack Alligator Push Toy These little alligators open and close their mouths as your child is pushing it forward! Very durable (it's Melissa and Doug!) Perfect for that child who is cruising along furniture but not ready for walking independently! Really, any push toy is great, but this one is my favorite!
  • Push Mower I would say all boys love this toy, but really, all the girls love it too! It's a great outdoor toy for the back yard. It has a place for bubbles. The faster you go, the more bubbles come out! Perfect for the ones who are walking or just beginning to walk! It promotes more independence and working towards that faster walk/run.
  • Melissa & Doug Dust! Sweep! Mop! This set is lots of fun for your little one to "help" you clean your house. Model cleaning activities and they can follow right along with you! It's a great set for siblings because between the broom, mop, brush, and dust pan, there is something for everyone! Once again, it's Melissa & Doug, so you know you're getting a high quality, durable toy!
  • Slide with Stairs One of the skills I'm constantly asking parents about is, "How does your child do with stairs? Does he alternate his feet? Does he hold on to the rail?" A toy like this is a great way to make these gross motor skills play rather then routine. Through play, it becomes fun and children practice over and over again! And of course, you go up the stairs to get the reward of sliding down! Excellent reinforcer! The one I'm recommending also has a swing!
  • Balance Bike This one might seem a little scary at first, but really, a great way to teach your child to ride a bike. With a balance bike, you'll never have to worry about training wheels! You can look around at different designs; some are for children as young as a year and a half. The balance bike pictured is the one my son has. It has been great for us! If you make the purchase, know that is takes most kids a month to get the hang of it (and they just keep getting better)!

Each of the toys listed have a link to Amazon so you can see more details of what I'm recommending. However, as you guys know, I'm a thrifty lady, and I always shop around before purchasing!

We all know that for physical play, you don't necessarily need a toy. So here are... 

Some of My Favorite Activities for Physical Play-

  • A riveting game of tag! We run circles in our house trying to catch one another! 
  • Duck, Duck, Goose! While they may not completely understand, tapping each other on the head and running in a circle is always loads of fun!
  • Jumping in rain puddles! I know the Mom in all of us wants to hold back on this... BUT... Life is short, go put on your rain boots, and get a little messy with your kiddo! You won't regret it! The look on your kid's face will be enough.

What about you? What are your favorite toys and activities for physical play?

Play & Learning: My Favorite Things for Manipulative Play

While this is a really fun portion of the Play & Learning blog series to write, I feel I must begin with a caution. Some researchers are hesitant to recommend specific toys because there are so many factors present as to what is an effective toy for your child. Some contributing factors include- the personality of your child (and you know your child like no one else, certainly better than me), However, as an artist has his or her paint brushes, I have toys. For an Early Interventionist, toys are the tools of the trade. And I do have some that I love more than others. 

Last week, we discussed 4 different types of play: manipulative, physical, dramatic, & creative. Over the next four weeks, I'll be sharing my favorite toys of each of these types of play. This week, we are going to focus on my favorite toys for Manipulative Play. Each picture is hyperlinked to Amazon so you can see more details for each toy! Get ready to have some fun!

Great Manipulative Toys:

  • Links- These links are crazy cheap (Currently $1.89 on Amazon). They are excellent for a baby who is learning to grasp because of their shape and light weight! To top it off great colors for visual stimulation & a variety of edges for tactile stimulation! Later your child can use these for higher level developmental skills such as transferring the link from one hand to the other or reaching for a toy that is held up by a strand of these links! Really with these links the possibilities are endless.
  • Rattles- If you go to the store, they're going to have 15,000 rattles for you to choose from. The reason I'm sharing this rattle is you can hit a variety of skills with this one rattle- light so it's easy for young ones to hold, same great shape as our links which are easy to hold, makes a nice rattle sound when shaken, without being too loud, the egg piece & two movable links allow for child to spin or manipulate as higher level developmental skills take form.
  • Mirrors- A cheap $5-$8 mirror can be found at the local dollar store, Wal-Mart, Target, etc. Turn it on it's side and mount to the wall in your child's play area. Make sure it's low enough that your child can see himself or herself. You child can pat the mirror, point to himself  or herself, point to body parts, or point to other people when named through the mirror. This is a great social-emotional activity for your child!
  • Wooden Blocks- We are big fans of Melissa & Doug toys at our house. They're (typically) wooden which makes then pretty sturdy. They're classic, colorful, and oh-so-much-fun! When it came time for us to invest in some wooden blocks, there was not question that the Melissa & Doug Wooden Blocks were the brand for us! Here is a brief developmental progression of how to use these toys (reaching to grasp, transferring the block from one hand to the other to get a new block, banging the blocks together, building a tower (try getting to 9!), making a train, and making a bridge!
  • Ring Stacker- When I found this stacker on Amazon while researching for this blog post, I was shocked to see that my favorite ring stacker is $21 when bought new. I would never pay that in a million years... However, I will maintain that it is my favorite because when you stack a link, the whole thing lights up and plays a lively song! It's great positive reinforcement for getting those links on and both of my kiddos have enjoyed bouncing to the music (pulling in that physical play!). I was able to find my ring stacker for $4.50 at Switch-A-Roos! So keep your eyes peeled when you're out and about!
  • Mega Blocks- Once your child is able to start connecting the over-sized prongs, he or she will be engaged in play for quite a while. These blocks are heavy duty! I've had my same set since I first started working as an Early Interventionist. If they get dirty, throw them in the dishwasher for a thorough cleaning and you'll be all set for another round of play!
  • Shape Sorter- Shape sorters have a multitude of options. However, this hippo shape sorter is a ton of fun! I give my kiddos on shape to insert at a time and once they get them all in, they get to push the spinner watching the blocks go round and round until they fall out the hippos mouth! A variety of skills and so much fun!
  • Big Knob Puzzle- These big knob puzzles are so great for tiny hands! My favorite brand for a big knob puzzle is Melissa & Doug (...again...). We have the house, the barn, the fish bowl, and house pets. We LOVE them! My kids start out just pulling out all the pieces, and I use hand over hand to help them insert. As children grow older, they can match the picture of the puzzle piece to the hole in the puzzle. These are high-quality wooden puzzles that last and last!
  • String & Beads- Why string beads when you can string a farm??? ALEX Toys Little Hands String A Farm is sooo cute! Very colorful! And you can practice naming animals and their sounds while stringing them! 
  • Water Beads & Fine Motor Tools- These water beads provide SO MUCH FUN!!! They start out teeny tiny, soak them in water for 6-10 hours, and then they come out as these marble sized jello-like balls (though firmer). We gather all our tools- water beads in a nice sized bowl, some smaller bowls, spoons, and fine motor tools all contained on a baking sheet. The baking sheet really confines the mess because these little beads sure can bounce. All the children I work with and my own kids adore these beads. The wetness of the beads provide a great sensory activity and the fine motor opportunities are endless! 

What about you guys? Do you have any great recommendations for manipulative or physical toys that I might have missed? I'm always on the lookout for great new toys! I'd love to hear from you in the comments below!

What did my child just qualify for?

"My child qualifies for Early Intervention services. What does that mean?"

Early Intervention is really a two part service including Special Instruction & Service Coordination. If someone asks me what Early Intervention is or what an Early Interventionist does, my one sentence explanation is-

We equip parents with strategies and services in order to help children meet developmental goals.

Special Instruction is a time where your Early Interventionist will share research-based strategies with you to help your child meet developmental goals. Lets pick this apart a bit more-

  • Special Instruction, also known as Family Training. You may hear both terms, but they're the same thing.
  • Time: Special Instruction is provided four times a month, for an hour each time.
  • Research-based activities: So much of what we do will look like play first glance. However, all of our activities are based on research. Your Early Interventionist is there to teach you the most effective means of accomplishing goals. We'll share the research with you and teach you the benefits!
  • Goals: Much more on this later, but... You select the goals for your child. We are here to teach you what skills come next developmentally, but you choose the specific goals based on the concerns you have for your child.  

Service Coordination is when your Early Interventionist connects you with services that meet the needs of your family and your child. What types of services might your Early Interventionist help you get connected with?

  • BabyNet 16 Services such as speech therapy, occupational therapy, etc. (look for future blog post!)
  • Medicaid, TEFRA
  • Housinge
  • Autism Testing
  • ABA Therapy
  • Parent Support (i.e. Family Connections)
  • Head Start, Early Head Start, Private Preschool
  • Transition to the School District at age 3

Special Instruction (Strategies) + Service Coordination (Services) = Early Intervention