Exploring Open-Ended Pretend Play

August 5, 2013 in All Posts, Kindergarten, Kindergarten Craft, Play, Preschool, Preschool Craft

When we received a box of craft supplies to make our own DIY Costumes from Chica at Sprout’s The Chica Show, the kids nearly died from excitement! (After regaining their composure there was a very serious discussion about the difference between chicks, roosters, hens, and chickens).

For my part, I was looking forward to spending some time crafting with the kids and to setting up a brand new invitation for open-ended pretend play.


What is Open-Ended Pretend Play?

Like “open-ended play” or “free play” generally, open-ended pretend play has no pre-determined goal or set outcome other than for your child to explore the available materials in front of him.  Whatever character your child creates is absolutely perfect – even if it’s not exactly how you envisioned it.  And whatever scene he imagines is an appropriate one – even if you don’t agree, for example, that penguins live in trees and eat potatoes for breakfast.

Why is Open-Ended Pretend Play Important?

DIY Detective Costume

For starters, you’re firing up his imaginative skills, which encourages him to think creatively and independently not just in play, but in academic settings and daily practical problem solving scenarios. Plus, your child reaps the benefits of:

  • Understanding the world around him
  • Compassion
  • Practical life skills
  • Learning to story tell
  • Intentional and spontaneous design
  • Overcoming social fears


3 Easy Ways To Encourage & Extend Open-Ended Pretend Play

1. Involve your child in selecting or making his costume during dress up play.  Resist the urge to plan everything out in advance every time.

Tip: You don’t need a big budget to create your own costumes.  A paper grocery bag mask, a toilet paper roll telescope or paper tube pair of binoculars, or a dress made out of construction paper (or paper you’re recycling) will do just fine.

2. Take as much time as your child needs, without feeling pressure to finalize an outfit or act out a scenario. You may set up a pretend play invitation but your child would rather explore or create with the materials in some way other than actually dressing up.

Benefits of Free Play

Tip:  If your child doesn’t want to dress up or role play, just go with it.  That exact thing happened with the kids after the initial excitement of making their costumes died down.  They dove into the materials and wanted to touch and explore them instead of making the final product.  We spent a long time playing birds and eating worms (the colored thread in the photo above).

3. Use pretend play as a creative vehicle for teaching academic or practical life subjects.  After cutting out the “bony plates” for our dinosaur, my daughter simply wanted to stack and sort the felt triangles.  Then she counted them and placed them into various patterns.


This was the perfect math activity and I didn’t even have to plan for it.  Love sneaking in learning like that!

For more inspiration, visit these great posts from my early education blogging friends:

Does your child like to pretend play? Please share your fun ideas in the comments!

Costume Instructions

Here are the instructions for the Detective Costume and instructions for the Dinosaur Hoodie if you’d like to try this at home.


For more dress up inspiration, catch Chica showcasing “The Costume Coop” on The Chica Show at 11:30 a.m. and 5:45 p.m. daily. Plus, you can check out Chica’s fun games, videos, coloring pages, and other creative learning activities at Sprout Online.

Parents and friends: for more ideas, activities, and inspiration for #RaisingThinkingKids, click on an icon below to join us on Facebook, Pinterest, Google+ and Twitter.

Fellow bloggers: join me at Bloggy Law, where you’ll find Simple Tips for Bulletproofing Your Brand and Blog and I’ll help you navigate the social media legal landscape a little more smoothly.

Chrissy – who has written posts on The Outlaw Mom® Blog – Creative Living in a Conventional World.

You Might Enjoy: