Help me play better with my kids
May 12, 2009 11:40 AM   Subscribe

Please help me think of some new, interesting, positive role-playing scenarios for my girls to use with their dolls and stuffed animals.

I have two little girls aged 4 and 6. They love to play dolls, and they love it even more when I play with them. Problem is, I don’t enjoy that stuff and am not naturally good at it. I play along sort of half-heartedly and let them take the lead in making up the scenarios, but we inevitably end up with a reenactment of our regular lives (complete with the dolls fighting over toys, giving each other the silent treatment, etc!). Some of the stuff we’ve done include: teacher/students, doctor/patients, and of course, parents/kids but these get boring and repetitive.

I’m looking for some fun, fresh ideas for scenarios they could use. Bonus points if the play helps reinforce positive behaviours or teaches a lesson. Mega bonus points if the scenario actually gets and keep my interest!

They play with Polly Pockets, Littlest Pet Shop, My Little Ponies, and stuffed animals. So mostly animals, but they “act” like people. The scenarios don’t have to be animal-centered. Also, right now boys are "ick" plus they are quite young so I want to steer away from any romantic-type boy/girl interactions.

Thanks for any ideas you can give me!
posted by yawper to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (18 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
Any adventure movie in your collection could probably be turned into a fantastic play scenario. Indiana Jones treasure hunting, Ninja assassins, whatever. While boys might be icky, I wouldn't assume the scenarios have to be very girlie either.

Also, I want to play dolls with Greg Nog!
posted by marylynn at 11:56 AM on May 12, 2009

Hey, let's put on a show!
posted by box at 11:56 AM on May 12, 2009

Best answer: When I was little, I loved "rescue" stories--the princess is kidnapped, let's save her! the princess is lost in the woods, let's find her! the princess is stuck on the side of the highway because her car ran out of gas, let's help her! I was big on princesses (the "us" doing the rescuing were also princesses), but I bet it would work with ponies, too. You can prolong the game indefinitely by adding obstacles: Sprinkles the pony is lost in the woods, but to get to the woods, the other ponies need to build a bridge over the river, and then they need to stop for lunch... I don't know.
posted by Meg_Murry at 12:03 PM on May 12, 2009

We inevitably end up with a reenactment of our regular lives

That's half the fun of playing dolls! Getting to be a "regular" person even though you're nothing but a little kid. That's why they're pretending within "regular" scenarios- it's not boring to them, they haven't gotten that far in their lives yet. Don't take that away from them. I remember playing like that with my sisters, it was a great time for us. As for you, you're not supposed to enjoy playing with dolls- you're a grownup. Do not feel bad about not enjoying it. If the kids need some new blood in their playtime routines, bring over some other kids.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 12:05 PM on May 12, 2009 [10 favorites]

I was a big fan of reenacting my favorite TV shows with my stuffed animals. Have them go on Dora the Explorer type map reading adventures. Not necessarily as Dora but maybe as Dora's cousin's pony Lora.
Or go Hannah Montana (or her cousin Jane Maine? Samantha ... Nebraska? Georgia... Georgia?) and have them interact in the real world but have a secret identity and put on concerts. It's fun to use 2 different toys--one for Hannah Montana and one for un-Hannah Montana that way she can go through 'costume changes'.
Of course, use their favorite TV shows.

I had a specific set of Beanie Babies as a kid that I would set up Star Trek: The Next Generation bridge-style. There was a lot of:
CAPTAIN LEGS THE FROG: Lieutenant Ringo the Raccoon, shields up to 2zillion%!
COUNSELOR BESSIE THE COW: Captain, I don't think the enemies are hostile.
CAPTAIN: Ensign Seamore the Seal, Warp Pi, stat!
ENSIGN: Yes Captain!

When I would play with my parents they'd encourage the Let's Make a Deal game show. I didn't get it but it was still fun.

Giving specific animals powers based on their features is another imagination inducing addition. I had a panda bear with a plastic rose attached to her hand--she could make plants grow. I had this weird Cabbage Patch doll that was a dog-human hybrid... he had the typical hard head/soft body--he could run into things with his head and break them. I had a polar bear... he was left handed. When I'd play with my friends' My Little Ponies, most of them could fly, and some had a symbol on their rumps that would act as Care Bear "stares." Just this incorporation opens up typical real world interactions.
posted by simplethings at 12:42 PM on May 12, 2009

Make a puppet show theater. Part of the task is building the puppets and theater(which can be really fun for kids and adults) and part of it is putting on the performance. You might be able to convince the kids to put on a show for you so you don't have to play along.
posted by nikkorizz at 12:51 PM on May 12, 2009

I'm with ThePinkSuperhero on this. The whole point of this kind of self-directed play is to be (you got it) self directed. They're reenacting your daily lives because they're still so young that regular life is interesting and confusing to them. I say don't interfere unless they're actively asking you for new ideas.
posted by telegraph at 1:12 PM on May 12, 2009

Play is the Work of Childhood

Kids use exactly this sort of role-playing (ie: 'a reenactment of our regular lives') in order to work out their role in the world and understand the way relationships work. I urge you to let them continue to direct their own play and play along with the scenarios they provide. To "play better" with your kids, let them assign you a role, then play it out as realistically as you can -- help them understand, through play, how to make good choices and the repercussions of bad choices.

Also, its not that you're not good at it - the imagination is a mucscile also. You need to exercise it in order for it to get stronger. You're just out of practice. Keep practicing!
posted by anastasiav at 1:25 PM on May 12, 2009 [1 favorite]

Best answer: A quick way to generate ideas is to think of a place that they know something about (eg school). They'll be curious how that place runs, who has to do what; just the normal roles and operations of a business etc can be a game all its own.

-Farm (what should we grow? we should get up in the morning to milk the cows; etc)
-Store (what should we sell? some animals will be customers; some will stock the shelves, some will work the cash register, etc)
-Vet/doctor's office (doctor, nurse, patients, etc)
-Fancy restaurant (behind the scenes - someone will cook, someone will be waiter, etc)
-Theater (ticket seller, manager, usher, performers, etc)
-Airport (mechanics, pilots, passengers, baggage-handling, etc)
-Subway/railroad (conductor, ticket-seller, someone who helps with the subway map, passengers)
posted by LobsterMitten at 1:33 PM on May 12, 2009

Response by poster: Some really great ideas here! Thanks all. I should clarify that I'm not trying to direct their play or "take over" their play session in the least. They play a lot of these games and I join in on only about 5% of them. It's just when I DO join in, I'd like to bring some fun new ideas that will encourage their imagination and excite them while also keeping me engaged. Because they are so close in age (18 months), they have a love/hate relationship and fight a lot in real life. That tends to seep into the pretend play after awhile. So I'm looking for ideas that would keep them distracted from that kind of stuff, while also being fun and interesting. I guess you could call it "proactive redirection" (uh...that's just a term I made up).
posted by yawper at 1:41 PM on May 12, 2009

As far as putting a new spin on old scenarios, there's always the "Let's go to [location]" where the location can be the zoo, the park, a jungle, a big city, space, medieval times, the beach, the woods, etc.

Bonus points if the play helps reinforce positive behaviours or teaches a lesson.

One way to do this is to be realistic in your emotions while role-playing. So if you're acting out one of the dolls and another doll takes its toy, emphasize how sad your doll feels when it's taken away and how happy your doll feels when everyone shares. A lot of role-playing with kids is about learning about emotional interaction so emphasizing that helps.

Personally I would caution against actively discouraging bad behavior when role-playing, though. Play should be a kind of safe zone for kids where they can use their imagination and have an outlet for feelings that they might not be able to express in real life. Acting out a fake argument with the 4 year old pretending to be the parent probably isn't much fun for you, but for a young child being able to act out situations that they don't quite understand or have control over in their lives can help them deal with a lot of the frustration that they feel growing up.
posted by burnmp3s at 1:41 PM on May 12, 2009

Maybe use characters or story lines from favorite books.
posted by various at 2:01 PM on May 12, 2009

Because they are so close in age (18 months), they have a love/hate relationship and fight a lot in real life. That tends to seep into the pretend play after awhile.

To use an expression I learned on metafilter: that's not a bug, it's a feature.
posted by moxiedoll at 2:05 PM on May 12, 2009 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Let them lead.

Who should I be? What should I do?

If they're scrapped for ideas, give pair choices. Should I be a goat or a frog? Is my name Manuel or Mindy (pick a letter at random and select two names - split the gender or pick two gender neutral names - whatever).

Set up simple props. Empty boxes and washcloths for beds. Socks for sleeping bags. Try to see things not for what they are, but for what they could be and again, set choices. Do we need a rocket or a car? Do we need a barn or a castle?
posted by plinth at 5:33 PM on May 12, 2009

Because they are so close in age (18 months), they have a love/hate relationship and fight a lot in real life. That tends to seep into the pretend play after awhile.

If you think it's bad now...

Mostly kidding, but my son and daughter are 15 months apart and I spend a lot of my time with them discouraging the bickering because I find it maddening to listen to. And they are 12 and almost 11. I don't see it getting better at my house for at least a decade.

When my two do happily play together with lego or whatever at this point, I just leave them be. I understand wanting to introduce new ideas and themes, and that's some great parenting, as far as I'm concerned.

I hate to rely on the TV, but movie themes have sometimes been helpful around my house. Re-enacting shows you've watched with them and liked, maybe? This is very age specific, but we all recently watched the Firefly series together and are working through the Trigun anime series. What I got shown the other evening was a group of space ships, with pilots and other personnel, that were really, really cool and well designed.

Yes, I'm raising nerds on purpose. So far, so good.
posted by lilywing13 at 12:53 AM on May 13, 2009

Response by poster: You've all given me a lot to think about. Thanks for your insight and ideas.

lilywing & moxiedoll...I can only imagine what the preteen and teen years will bring! My husband is not looking forward to all the hormones in the house :)
posted by yawper at 6:14 AM on May 13, 2009

Coming a bit late to the party, but I was going to second the "don't take away ALL of the 'let's play house' activity" comments. A large part of how kids process information is through play, some have found -- they're not just playing house, they're feeling out what their actual lives are like.

If they're anything like me and my friends, within a year or two they'll be adding all sorts of weird elements onto their play all on their own. The neighbor girl and I played house, but then as we got older we ended up with our "house" moving to more exotic scenarios -- I distinctly remember one time pretending we were in a war zone (possibly because us playing kept getting interrupted by our younger brothers who would periodically sneak up and attack us because what THEY usually played was "let's-beat-up-our-sisters", and we had to work it in SOMEHOW). Another time we were pretending we were African widows who were sharing the same hut and had a business of some kind. By the time we were eight, we had moved away from "house" entirely and we played "office," where we spent hours pretending we were helming this combination travel/import-export operation. We even had our own paperwork.

...I suddenly have the idea you maybe shouldn't use me as an example, becuase that last bit sounds kind of terrifying in hindsight.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:28 AM on May 15, 2009 [1 favorite]

Maybe look at this book; it's gotten good recommendations on some other sites I've read.
posted by questionsandanchors at 1:48 PM on May 17, 2009

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