Pretend Play: Preschool Imaginative Play Ideas for the Classroom

Pretend play provides excellent opportunities for children to express feelings, emotions, and creativity. There is no right or wrong way of pretending. Children experience a sense of success that builds their self-confidence and self-esteem. Pretending is also a great stress reducer as children can relax and just have fun for the moment. Having this kind of fun is an important part of everyone’s life; isn’t childhood wonderful where children can experience it daily through imaginative play?

Imaginative Play with Props

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Encourage children to use simple props in their pretend play. Plan an area where you keep these objects for imaginative play and easily accessible. Here are a few ideas for items to place in costume or prop boxes.

A ribbon or scarf can become anything from a sash to an elephant trunk. Ask the children to swish it up and down, back and forth. The ribbon becomes an extension of the child’s own imagination.

Help children to make hats. Fold newspapers into hats and trim with paper or real feathers and other decorations. You can also coat sheets of newspaper with wallpaper paste and then mold several layers around a bowl. Let this dry, trim the brim, and voila you have a hat for the children to decorate and wear.

Think about dress-up clothing for acting out the ‘mommy and daddy’ scene or community helpers. Ask for donations from community helpers to add to your collection. Old Halloween costumes are great assets for pretend play. Don’t forget about sunglasses for the movie star look. Wigs and fabric hats are frowned upon due to the fact that head lice can be spread from one child to the next. Make sure all clothing can be washed and sanitized.

Other props can include puppets, stuffed animals, play foods, cooking utensils, and musical instruments.

Musical Activities

Children love animals – the bigger and louder, the better! Why not use an animal theme along with music as a springboard for creative exploration. Invite the children to pretend that they are animals or insects and start this premise by showing pictures of animals in books or posters. Talk about these animals – how they move and the sounds they make.

Think about using music to enhance creative movement. As you help the children begin to dramatize the world of animals, play portions of the Carnival of Animals by Camille Saint-Saens. Each part of this musical score describes an animal. Discuss the characteristics of the music, how fast, slow, soft and loud it sounds. Can you guess the animal the music is describing? Ask the children to move with the music as if they were that animal.

For authenticity, make little props that add to the pretend play. Paper trunks, noses and tails are simple and fun.

Visual Imagery

This may sound technical, but it’s truly simple. Start with real situations and then proceed gradually to imaginative ideas. Try some of these situations below and make sure you are pretending along with your group.

  • “It is raining very hard. You are a windshield wiper on the car. Go back and forth, faster and faster, so the driver can see the road.”
  • “Who is brave enough to follow me? I’m going to walk this tightrope at the circus.”
  • “We are floating up to the clouds. Try to walk on them. What does it feel like to walk on a cloud?”
  • “You are a tiny bug lost in the tall, tall grass. How can you find your home?”


Children think in concrete terms and their world is shaped through their five senses. In this exercise, begin pretend play by connecting make-believe with real sensory experiences. Try some of these situations and then create new ones with your class.

  • Pretend you are a baby just learning how to walk.
  • Your feet are stuck to the ground by a big wad of bubble gum.
  • You are walking outdoors and smell something wonderful! Something terrible!
  • You have just lost your mother in a big crowded store.

Use these ideas with your class, praising all participation and encourage the children to bring forth new experiences. It may be an investment of time getting the dramatic play area equipped, however think of the rewards from the exciting and creative learning times you and your class will enjoy together.


First Teacher Magazine

Playing With Drama; Volume 14, November/December 1993

A Place to Pretend by Jeannine Perez; Volume 19, September/October 1998

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