If there’s one thing I’ve learned from TV and movie marketing, it’s that kids love a tie-in! Take a character they love and slap it on ANYTHING – from cupcake wrappers to coloring books to catapults – and the kids can’t get enough.
But you don’t have to rely on Mattel, Disney, and LEGO to build that excitement for you. A savvy parent or caregiver can easily parlay this tendency into excitement about the books, characters and lessons that (s)he deems important.
My kids have always loved to play games and create art based on books we read together. Long before we watched Cinderella on DVD, we had read several versions of the story and spent countless hours taking turns as wicked stepsisters, glittering godmothers, and a melodramatic main character. (“My dress! It’s ruined! RUUUUUUIIIIIIINNNNED!!!!”)
My husband and I often got to act out multiple (relatively undesirable) roles – like chickens, mice and coachmen. Sometimes I convinced my diminutive Cinderellas to cheerfully sweep the floors, scrub the porch railings, or wash the windows as part of their role. The game didn’t always get my house clean – but it did get their brains working!
These types of play – reenacting familiar stories, building imaginary worlds – are so good for children’s developing minds and developmental milestones. With the help of their caregivers, kids are identifying personality traits and emotions, practicing social interactions, sequencing events, building memory, growing vocabulary, and strengthening creativity. These games also build children’s fondness for the book they are “playing” – assuring that they will be picking it up again and again.
Caregivers can model play based on whichever books, stories and poems they choose to help kids learn just about anything! Whether you are hoping to teach your kids about a moral value, telling time, or how to rhyme, using a book to help is a fantastic tactic. It also reinforces a love of reading and makes a great substitute for a fascination with TV/movies.
Here are just a few ideas my kids and I have enjoyed over the years:
1. Use favorite action figures, dolls or homemade puppets to act out a story. We like to “mix things up” by putting characters with different traits (skin tone, gender, age, even species) in various roles. Or pretend the story is taking place in a different time or location – real or imagined. How does that change the story line?
2. Draw events from the story on separate pieces of paper. Mix them up and see what happens when events occur out of order. Then work to make it right again. Remove the last one or two events and have your child(ren) create a new ending.
3. Read a story front to back. Then back to front. Then try to sing it to a familiar tune.
4. Read stories with lots of alliteration (same first sound). Then make up your own alliterations using things like your children’s names, pets, foods, etc. Teach your kids some crazy tongue twisters, too!
5. Plan a mini-party – for just your family, a few friends, or a gang of stuffed animals – using a book you enjoy as the theme. It does not have to be “Pin-Worthy” to make kids happy. A few snacks with new names that tie in to the story, some homemade decorations, and a book-inspired game are really all you need. I find any book has a good option for a “pin the BLANK on the BLANK” that you can whip up with construction paper and tape. (Pin the apple on the hungry caterpillar, pin the green eggs on the ham, pin the cow over the moon…you get the idea).
6. Use play-clay or craft dough to make characters from the story, roll out letters and words, or create “props” like the pink cupcakes that tempt Pinkalicious!
Your children will want to play these games over and over until you are sick of them. Be as patient as you can. Repetition is how they learn. Remind yourself that while pretending to be The Lorax
…or Olivia’s mother…
or an egotistical dragon…
over and over again is annoying, the alternative is little Johnny watching the same episode of Yo Gabba Gabba 427 times.
And then begging for the talking toys.
So, go ahead and read a book, play a game, grow your child’s fascination AND mind!