Information for Child Care Providers
Alison Levitch, M.A.,
and Sara Gable, Ph.D.,
Department of Human Development and Family Studies, University of
Play is fun and enjoyable. Just as
important, it promotes children's social and emotional development.
One particular form of play, pretend, is especially important for
young children. And, according to Radu Bogdan, professor of
Philosophy at Tulane University in New Orleans, preschoolers are
primed and ready to pretend.
During pretend, preschoolers engage
in role-play by pretending to be someone, or something, else. A
child can become a loved pet, cook, grocery store clerk, father,
police officer, FedEx delivery person or superhero. Through
role-play, children practice scripts that are part of each role.
Scripts are the sequence of events that people follow in their daily
lives to complete a task or do a job. Scripts include what a person
in a particular role and situation says and does, and in what order.
Most adults do not have to actively think about preparing and
serving breakfast because it is part of their daily routine.
Preschoolers need to experiment with these adult scripts and
routines. Pretend play allows children to become someone else and to
practice what that person says and does.
Caregivers and teachers can
encourage children's pretend play with prop boxes. Prop boxes are
bags or boxes that contain real-life items used by people for
particular roles. Prop boxes contain items that help children enact
scenarios that they have experienced, such as a trip to the doctor’s
office, and those they have not experienced, such as superhero or
fairy play. A prop box for doctor’s office play may include a
stethoscope, tongue depressors, doctor’s coat, blood pressure cuff,
clipboard with paper and pens, otoscope (for checking ears and
nose), pillows, blankets and adhesive bandages. A prop box for fairy
play may include magic wands, fluffy skirts, ballet slippers, crowns
Even a simple prop can encourage
creativity as a child becomes someone who is important to him or
her. With some space, a few props and their imaginations,
preschoolers can play endlessly. Many props can be reused in
multiple scenarios. For example, an apron and empty container might
one day be part of pretend play in an ice cream store and might be
used on another day when preschoolers are pretending to cook dinner
like their parents do. Below are some ideas for contents of various
Mail carrier prop box
- old letters
- paper and crayons (to write
- used stamps (to tape onto
- shoe boxes (to wrap with
newspaper or wrapping paper)
- junk mail and flyers
- return address labels
- post office vest/shirt/uniform
- name tag
Ice cream shop prop box
- menus or lists of ice cream
- empty plastic containers
- ice cream scoop
- spoons, plates, napkins,
bowls, pretend ice cream cones
- hat/store uniform/apron
- play money
Pretend play is a wonderful way to
have fun and promote preschoolers’ understanding of social scripts.
The social skills that children develop are also beneficial for
other forms of social interaction, such as getting along with peers
Have fun gathering items for prop
boxes and seeing what children do with them. Teachers and caregivers
do not need to actively participate. Provide props and the children
will do the rest.
Bender, J. (January 1971). Have you
ever thought of a prop box? Young Children, 164-169.
Bogdan, R. J. (2005). Pretending as
imaginative rehearsal for cultural conformity. Journal of
Cognition and Culture, 5, 191-213.
Lindsey, E. W., & Colwell, M. J.
(2003). Preschoolers’ emotional competence: Links to pretend and
physical play. Child Study Journal, 33, 39-52.