As a parent of a single child, I’m always looking for new ways to engage and entertain her, especially now that we are home all the time. One of my favourite things to do, is to create dramatic centres within our home for Charlie to explore. Pre-pandemic, I would have just gone to the store and bought her a new toy or craft supplies, but because of our current ‘stay at home’ measure, I needed to work with what I had around the house. Trust me when I say, it is far more rewarding to repurpose on hand material than bringing more things in the house and spending money. The last two centres (I only do one at a time, as to not overwhelm her or the space) were based on Charlie’s emerging interests – veterinarian’s office and restaurant.
For the Vet’s office, I found some free printables templates online, like a health checklist and a badge, and laminated them to make them reusable. I purchased a simple laminator last year and it has been very handy lately. I had made some other simple signs, such as ‘waiting room’ and ‘vet office’, to save some printer ink. I’m sure there are templates online for those as well. From there, I just searched my house for things that could be found in a veterinarian’s office. Charlie already had a toy medical kit and stuffed animals, so that part was easy. I found a tensor bandage, plastic Band-Aids, disposable masks, a flashlight, magnifying glass, cotton balls, and goggles. I took all of the material and presented them in stages: a waiting room for the animals, an exam room, and a schedule of animals with appointments that day. Charlie was instantly engaged with the area the next morning. She loved it so much, we kept it up for two weeks! Each night, I would create a new list of patients and set up the stuffed animals.
The restaurant centre was pulled together in the same way. I first found some free templates online to print (the menu and open/closed sign), and then search the house for items that could be used in the restaurant. Luckily, we had a lot of toy food, plates, cups etc that are typical in that setting. I was able to use items like a tablecloth, plastic cutlery and paper plates, notepad and pen, and our dry erase easel from around the house. If we didn’t have toy food, I would have brought in canned food and empty boxes from the pantry and recycling, printed photos of food or drawn them together, and pots and pans from the cupboards. While not as popular as the Vet’s office for Charlie, she still did enjoy it and has been playing with it for at least a week.
One of my biggest takeaways from these setups is that children love playing with real life materials and situations, as much as they love playing with fantastical toys and creating imaginary lands. Setting up centres, repurposing household material, and using their toys in new ways, sparks their imagination and can further develop emerging interests.