Encouraging pretend play

“For children play is serious learning.  Play is really the work of childhood” – Fred Rogers

It’s now well established that play is incredibly important to children and their development.  In fact, it’s so important that it’s been recognised as a human right for every child by the United Nations High Commission for Human Rights.

I love watching my children play.

Waiting to see what toys they’ll make a beeline for at playgroup.  Seeing the different ways they decide to play with them.

Recently I’ve noticed Rhys getting much more creative in his play.  He’s had a play kitchen for a few years and has always liked ‘cooking’ with it, but his pretend play has definitely changed in the last few months.  He’ll play with a few soft toys now, coming up with scenarios for them and making all the different toys ‘talk’.

It’s fascinating to watch and I love seeing that creative, imaginative side of him!

Which makes me think about what I can do to encourage him to continue this pretend play and to introduce it to Nerys.


After doing some research I’ve come up with these three suggestions for how I can encourage my children to engage in pretend play, and the benefits of it for them:

Provide props, suggest several uses and encourage open-ended play

One of the big things we can do to encourage our children to engage in pretend play is to provide them with the necessary props.  This can be as elaborate as buying or making them a whole play kitchen, complete with toy food and pots and pans, or it can be as simple as gathering their soft toys and some sheets of paper so they can play ‘schools’!The main point here is to provide props so that the play is open ended.  Let the child make the decisions about how exactly they’ll use the items provided and what scenarios they want to act out.  Psychological studies have found that this type of play promotes creative problem solving skills.  One study in particular, by Wyver and Spence (1999) suggested that there is a causal connection between pretend play and a child’s ability to solve divergent problems (these are problems that have several possible outcomes, as opposed to a convergent problem which only has one correct answer).

Wyver and Spence (1999) found that children who were encouraged to participate in pretend play, and who were shown how to do so, then showed an increased ability to solve divergent problems.  Interestingly, they also found that children who were trained in solving divergent problems then showed increased rates of pretend play!

So perhaps if you have a child who really isn’t interested in pretend play you can encourage them to look at divergent problems with you and discuss possible solutions; this may in turn lead them to naturally show more of an interest in pretend play.  You might have an empty box, that another child would naturally grab and turn into a racing car.  

If your child doesn’t seem interested in using the box for pretend play you could try and spark their creativity by discussing with them all the different ways you could use the box and encourage them to come up with as many suggestions of their own as they can!

Introduce a play mate

At the moment Rhys seems to particularly like engaging in pretend play by himself.  I’m very conscious of the fact that I need to encourage him to play co operatively with other children.  I really need to set up some after-school play dates!

Playing with other children can be hugely beneficial.  Watching another child engaged in pretend play can give your child ideas of how to play himself.  By observing they can learn how a certain toy or prop could be used.

Engaging in pretend play with other children is also important for a child’s social skills and has the added benefit of increasing their ability to self-regulate (their impulses, emotions and attention).  A study by Lillard et al (2013) found that children who frequently engage in pretend play with other children have stronger self-regulation skills.  

Which does seem to be logical; after all, if you’re pretend playing with another child you both have to agree about what pretend things you’re doing and how you’re playing!  

The children have to learn to conform to a set of rules and the researchers suggest that practising conforming to rules like this could help children to develop better self-control and self-regulation over time.

Talk about the things you do as an adult and encourage them to copy you.

A lot of children will naturally want to copy what their parents are doing, grabbing a brush to help you clean up or making dinner in their play kitchen.

If you’re child doesn’t instinctively do these things you can encourage them by talking about the things you’re doing and then offering them tools to play alongside you.  So if you’re cooking dinner you could give your child a few bowls and spoons and dry pasta to mix up and transfer from bowl to bowl.

This kind of ‘real-life’ play has been found to help prepare children for actual real life challenges.  A study by Lancy in 2008 found that children all round the world engage in play activities that mimic the kinds of things they’ll be doing as adults.  The study also found that when older children or adults engage in the play with them and use that opportunity to teach them about the activities the children do take that information in, showing that children really do learn through play!

Do you think these tips are helpful?  Does your child naturally seem to enjoy pretend play?  I’d love to hear about the kinds of pretend play they enjoy!  

Play is not a luxury. Play is a necessity_

My 3 favourite quotes about play

Sunday 17th May 2015 is national children’s day which is looking to spread the word about how important play is to children.  It’s not just about them having fun.  On the national children’s day website they explain that “Play is so important to optimal child development that it has been recognised by the United Nations High Commission for Human Rights as a right of every child (Article 31)”

So in celebration of the importance of play, I’ve put together this list of my 3 favourite ‘play’ quotes!

1) “Children need the freedom and time to play.  Play is not a luxury.  Play is a necessity”

Play quote


2) “Play is often talked about as if it were a relief from serious learning.  But for children play is serious learning.  Play is really the work of childhood”
quote about play


3) “We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing”
quote about play
Do you have a favourite quote about play?  Do you like the three quotes I’ve found?  I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!
Cuddle Fairy
My favourite signs for toddlers and babies

My 5 favourite signs for babies

I’ve mentioned in a few posts recently that Nerys has started to sign ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ which makes me really happy!  I was also really pleased the other day when she signed ‘wait’ to me when she wasn’t ready to get out of her buggy yet.

I love how she can communicate with us so much better now that she can sign a few things.  I think she’d be much more frustrated if she didn’t have that tool.

We watch ‘Something special’ on Cbeebies most days and she seems to really enjoy watching them all sign, and Rhys enjoys it too, especially now that he can copy the signs much more easily than when he first watched it as a baby.

For anyone who doesn’t know any baby sign language, here are my 5 favourite and, in my opinion, most useful signs to teach your baby:

My 5 favourite signs for babies and toddlers


1) Please/Thank you

This was the first sign that both Rhys and Nerys learnt.  Maybe because it’s the sign that Steve and I use the most when talking to them, I’m not sure.The sign is the same for both words which makes it really easy for them to learn.

Signing please and thank you
2) Eat
This one is really useful for helping babies explain what it is that they want!  Nerys uses it in the mornings to tell me that she’s ready to have some breakfast.
signing 'eat'
3) Drink
A good one to teach alongside ‘eat’, to help ease their frustration at not having the words to tell you if they’re hungry or thirsty!
Signing 'drink'
4) More
This is one I’m just starting to teach Nerys.  I ask her verbally if she wants more and she can answer me, so she understands the word, but I think it would be helpful for her to be able to just ask for more if she wants to!
Signing 'more'
5) Sleep
Sometimes babies are cranky and you’re not always sure why.
On some occasions it’s because they’re tired and could do with a little sleep – this sign could be really helpful for them to express this!
Signing 'sleep'

These are the signs that I think are most useful to start with, if you’re new to baby signing.  Although ‘milk’ is another good one, especially for younger babies!  We also sign ‘wait’ a fair bit, and I still find that one really useful to sign to Rhys if he’s a bit too far away to hear me or if I’m on the phone and want to tell him to wait without interrupting the conversation!

I’d love to know what you think about this – do you sign to your babies/young children?  What signs do you find most useful?


The importance of ‘please’ and ‘thank you’

Over the last week or two Nerys has started to sign ‘please’ and ‘thank you’.  This makes me stupidly happy.  Like, a bit more happy than I feel it really should?!

A big part of this happiness comes from the simple pleasure of watching her grow and learn and start to really communicate with us.  But another huge part of it is that it really is important to me that my children are polite and say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’.


I’ve written a few posts recently about focusing on the good things in our lives and how feeling and expressing gratitude is good for our mental and physical health.  I do want my kids to be grateful for things partly for that reason, I think they’ll be happier people if they appreciate everything they have and things other people do for them.

Interestingly though, a study carried out in 2010 by Grant and Gino (published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology) found that saying thank you also has a positive effect on the person being thanked.  When we say ‘thank you’ to people it can strengthen our relationship with them, let them know that we value what they’ve done for us and, apparently, can also make them more likely to help us again in the future.

In the study a group of participants were asked to give feedback on a cover letter for a job application for a made-up student.  When the student then asked for more feedback a day or two later, 66% of the participants agreed when he wrote a ‘thankful’ email, compared to just 32% of participants who agreed when he wrote the request in a ‘neutral’ tone.  That’s quite a dramatic increase; seeming to prove that we are in fact much more likely to help people again in the future if they express their gratitude for the things we do for them.

The researchers looked into this further and found that the reason we’re more likely to help those who thank us again is that the ‘thank you’ makes us feel that our help was appreciated, that we’re needed and that it makes us feel more socially valued.  It seems that hearing the words ‘thank you’ helps us feel reassured that our help is valued, which in turn motivates us to provide more help in the future.

So, teaching Rhys and Nerys to say ‘thank you’ will have positive effects on them and those that they’re interacting with!

Besides, it’s just the right thing to do isn’t it?!  If someone does something for you, or gives you something, it’s just polite to acknowledge it with a thank you.  And it does seem to brighten the postman’s day when he hands Rhys our post and gets a very enthusiastic ‘thank you’ back!

Do you agree?  Do you think it’s important to teach your children to say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ at an early age?  I’d love to know what other people think!

Things my daughter has just realised she can do

Things Nerys has just discovered she can do

Nerys seems to have experienced a bit of a developmental leap.

All of a sudden she’s found a real confidence on her feet and is communicating more and more.  And, I have to admit, she’s caught me by surprise a little bit!


Here are some of the things she’s suddenly discovered she can do:

  • Run.  She’s been walking for about 3 months and has suddenly discovered that she can also run.  Normally away from me, laughing maniacally.


  • Climb the stairs in 3 seconds flat.  Seriously, when did she get so fast?!


  • Open things.  The kitchen drawers, the dishwasher, it’s all fair game now.  I’m spending a lot of my time saying ‘no’ and moving her away from things.


  • Get what she wants by signing ‘please’. Well, she thinks that if she points at what she wants and signs ‘please’ then she can have it.  It works when she wants her brother’s hat.  Doesn’t work when she wants the sharp pair of scissors on the table!


It is so much fun watching her develop, the look of glee on her face when she realises she can do something is just brilliant!  Have your little ones started doing anything new recently?
encourage positive outlook children

Encouraging a positive outlook in your children

Throughout April I’ve been working on establishing a more positive outlook; acknowledging how green my grass really is!  I’ve been posting on Facebook and Twitter quite regularly with something that is good in my life, something that made me smile that day or something that I’m grateful for in my life.

It’s a habit I want to keep up because I know that if I’m not careful I find myself complaining about things that are ‘wrong’ rather than enjoying all the hundreds and thousands of things that are ‘right’ in my life.  I really want to cultivate a positive outlook and grateful attitude in myself and in my children.

These are my ideas of things we can do to help encourage a positive outlook in our children, so they grow up seeing the best of things in the world and being grateful for the all the wonderful things in their lives:

Encouraging a positive outlook in your children

1) When you notice something good, point it out to your children!  
Show them the beautiful flowers that are springing up everywhere, the colourful rainbow in the sky on a rainy day and all the other glorious things that mother nature has to offer.2) Get them involved in making/writing thank you cards.  
This is something we’re already doing.  My siblings and I were always expected to write thank you letters as children and I’m working at passing that habit on to my children.  I think it’s lovely, when someone takes the time to pick out and send a present to you, to make the effort to send them a nice thank you note back.  Sitting down with the children and helping them make, write or scribble on a thank you note will helpfully start to encourage them to be grateful for the presents they’re given and also to express that gratitude.

3) At bedtime ask them to tell you about the best thing about their day.
This is something that I’m not actually doing yet, but I think it would be a lovely habit to start, especially now Rhys is getting older and spending more time at school, away from us.  Helping him to focus on and talk about the best parts of his day will hopefully help him go to sleep happy and nurture a positive outlook on life in general!

What do you think?  Do you have a naturally positive outlook on life or is it something you have to work on?  I’d love to hear any more tips you might have on how to encourage our children to have a positive outlook.


Where did my little boy go?!

You know how sometimes, you put your baby down for a nap and could swear that they had grown while they were asleep?  Or that their facial features had shifted somehow and they just look different; older maybe.

Well last week I really had one of those moments where my son seemed to change and grow up before my very eyes!

About a week or so ago his hair seemed to suddenly grow to a point that it was almost in his eyes and just really needed to be cut.  So we went off on an adventure!  Nerys went off happily (almost too happily!) with Nana and Pops for a walk round the park and Rhys and I caught the bus into town to the hairdressers.

I’ve taken him to Tickled salon on Swansea high street twice now and have been really impressed with it both times.  The staff are really lovely and friendly, there are seats shaped like cars for Rhys to sit in and watch tv and the haircuts themselves have been great!

So Rhys sat in a car, watched a bit of Frozen and before I knew it a whole new child was sitting in front of me.  He just looks so different, so grown up!  It’s taking a bit of getting used to, I have to admit.  I said in a recent blog post that one of the hardest things about being a parent is letting your children grow up, letting them go.  And I really do think that’s true.  Accepting that my little boy is getting bigger, gearing up for full time school in September, is hard!  And now seeing him looking older is making it all the more ‘real’.

I have to remind myself that it’s all part of the adventure.  We can’t cling to the last stage (as much as I’d like to sometimes!).  Time for my little boy to start becoming a big boy.  He is nearly 4 after all!