Make-believe writing

Add writing to their pretend world and they'll be more likely to take chances in expressing themselves.

Learning Stages


By Tina O'Shea

Managing Editor at LeapFrog

Tina O’Shea is LeapFrog’s Managing Editor and the voice of @LeapFrog on Twitter, but to her kids, she’s the Freeze Dance DJ.

Children love to play pretend. They’re also natural storytellers. Through storytelling, children make the connection between spoken and written language. When you add writing to your child’s pretend play, he’ll discover some important things about reading and writing: that he can use writing to tell stories, to express himself and to communicate with others.

Your child probably spends a fair amount of time pretending to do “grown-up” things. This everyday pretend play provides plenty of opportunities to practice writing. Think of all the things you write during your normal day: You make lists, write notes to yourself and other family members, jot down phone messages, mark events on the calendar and so on. Provide your child with a notepad and encourage him to write with you. Suggest writing activities when you see your child playing; for example, if your daughter is hosting a pretend tea party, suggest that she write invitations, create name cards for the guests and write thank you notes afterwards.

Here are some more fun ways to bring writing into everyday play:

Plan a Pretend Family Vacation: Encourage your child to plan a family vacation to a real or imaginary place. Have her draw a map of the place and label it with important landmarks you will visit. Make lists: What do you need to pack? Who will come on your trip? Draw plane tickets and write an itinerary. Don’t forget to write postcards to your friends back home!

Let’s Go Shopping: Plan a pretend shopping trip and ask your child to write the shopping list. To make this game more challenging, pretend you can buy only things that begin with a particular letter sound. For example, if you’re shopping for the /p/ sound (say the /p/ sound, not the letter name), suggest that you could buy a pizza, pickles and pretzels. Then ask your child what other things you could buy: Can we buy pears? (Yes!) Can we buy pasta? (Yes!) Can we buy cake? (No! Cake doesn't begin with the /p/ sound.) Repeat the game with other beginning sounds.

Tell Me a Story: Ask your child to tell you a story. The story can be a retelling of something that really happened, a story your child has heard read aloud or a story your child makes up. Ask questions to help your child keep the story going (And then what happened?) and add details (What did the bear look like?). This inspires your child's imagination while you build awareness of a story's three parts: beginning, middle and end. Ask your child to write down the beginning, middle and end of the story so he can act it out.

Point of View: English teachers often discourse on "point of view"—a literary term for who narrates the tale. Tales can be told from many points of view and how we see an event depends to a large extent upon who tells us about it. Ask your child to rewrite a well-known story or fairy tale from his own perspective, or from the perspective of one of the characters. Can your child imagine how Cinderella would tell her own story?
You can also pretend that objects around you are alive and can talk. What would the teacup say? What does your child's teddy bear do when he is left alone in the dark? Encourage your child to write stories from the point of view of his toys.

Shuffle Stories: Collect a series of pictures—such a man on a bike, a cat, a crowd, etc.—and glue each image onto an index card. When you have a dozen or so, shuffle the deck and ask your child to choose three cards. Challenge your child to write a story that incorporates all the images.