Learning various skills through pretend play: Doctor Theme

Keeping my oldest daughter (age 6) engaged and interested in the learning process can be difficult at times. I often try to incorporate a play based approach to learning which helps tame her meltdowns and allows for a better learning environment. Since I also have a 2 year old tackling learning using a play based approach also helps bridge their different learning levels. It allows me to keep them both engaged and learning at their correct level at the same time.

Both my daughters enjoy playing doctor. Which gives an opportunity to talk about organs and different body parts. For example when using a toy stethoscope I’m able to talk about the heart and what it does. For my youngest I simply mention that everyone has a heart in their chest and its job is to pump the blood through your body.

On days my oldest daughter isn’t in the mood for reading a book we are able to sit down together and create our own illnesses in which I have her read what I wrote about my made up illness. When I’m able to get her to focus it is also a great writing opportunity for her in which she can write out details about the illness she makes up and we can count that as her writing for the day. Although the other day she was only in the mood for drawing out pictures and writing very little.

The Green and Red Pox.
Elephant Pox.
The Bubble-Pops.
Unicorn sickness.
Hung on a door to display in our pretend doctor clinic.

To add in a fine motor activity I cut various sizes of yarn and used them as pretend worms in which my youngest removed from her stomach. Since she had a pretend tummy ache from all the yarn worms. When finished we lined up the yarn and went over the concept shortest, longest. In terms of the worm (yarn) sizes in comparism to each other.

Gross yarn worms!
shortest, longest

When it comes to learning through a play based approach I’ve learned not to take it to seriously, and go with activities you know your children enjoy. My kids lean towards playing doctor therefore I just go with it and add in as much learning to the activity as possible.

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Using beads, toys, and markers to keep learning fun and simple.

My oldest daughter (age 6) is currently on a Summer break before starting First Grade next school year. I’ve been trying to incorporate as much education into her break without it feeling as if she is still in school. We’ve been turning to a play based approach to keep it casual, relaxed and fun during the summer. The goal is to avoid the summer slide and to enhance her reading skills to make sure she is where she needs to be for First Grade. My youngest (age 2) is still quite young and the play based approach is what best holds her interest all year round.

Today I kept it simple by bringing out markers, and paper. I wrote several words down, having my oldest read them and then asked her to write a few sentences to get in some writing time herself today. We traced our hands, our feet, my youngest cut up our scrap paper. We played with beads to work on fine motor skills, colors and basic counting. We looked at educational posters and we played with dolls and had fun together.

I often have to remind myself that all that matters is that they are exposed to education. It doesn’t have to be pretty and perfect looking. Writing out words on a piece of paper is enough. Buying materials for education can become pricey and I’m often searching for ideas in which I don’t have to print out and waste ink for everything. That’s why when I’m able to I just write it out on paper. Other times I use dry erase boards that way I don’t have to use paper. I can write a word, erase it, and write a new one saving on materials.

Writing sight words with dot and regular markers.
Writing words on paper during art time to get my oldest to read.
My oldest writing sentences during casual art time to keep it from feeling rigid and boring.
Tracing hands. I added simple sentences to my hand drawing to get my oldest to read and to count with my youngest. While throwing in a little bit of coloring learning. Blue and orange fingernails.
My oldest tracing her hand and arm as my youngest kept busy practicing her scissor skills by cutting up our scrap paper.
Dolls and posters to learn shapes.

When it comes to teaching kids the basics such as shapes, colors, numbers, etc. you can use various posters and toys that’ll hold their interest. At my house when my daughters aren’t in the mood to learn I’ll grab out posters and slip them into their play. They were playing with dolls today therefore I brought out a shape poster and we had the dolls jump around landing on different shapes naming each one. For my oldest I brought out a fraction poster and when a doll jumped on a fraction for example I’d say that doll ate half of the pie. To introduce the concept of fractions to my oldest. Then she’d add on looking at the different fraction images naming off how much of the pie the doll ate.

Playing with beads.

Stringing beads can be a great fine motor activity. Beads are also great for teaching colors, patterns, and counting. We incorporated their dolls in with bead play today as a way to keep their interest. My youngest needed more to hold her interest than the beads itself therefore I brought out the dolls and had them jump on the beads and name off each color. In which she did the same and began to name off the colors herself. Picking them up for the doll and picking out the dolls favorite colors.

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The above posters and bead sets are what we used in our lessons today.

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Exploring outside and making nature inspired chalk art.

My daughters were in a cranky mood today. They kept arguing with each other, and had no interest in doing anything educational. Therefore I asked them if they wanted to go outside and explore with me. They grabbed their binoculars and headed out the door. We came across bugs, birds, squirrels, and mushrooms.

Looking for birds above them.
Observing ants.
Looking up close at a bug.

When we came back inside I simply asked them to recall a few things they saw outside. They chose to name off birds, butterflies, and mushrooms. I wrote a list on a dry erase board as they named off what they knew about each. Mushrooms pop up in our front and backyard, whenever they pop up I go over that nothing is to be eaten that we find outside because it can be poisonous. My youngest is at the age in which she needs constant reminders not to put anything in her mouth and that not everything can be eaten. She’s at the point where she understands she shouldn’t eat random things although reminders are important because she is curious about everything. For additional learning you could have kids draw and write about what they see outside. As I stated earlier my daughters weren’t in the learning mood today therefore I kept it simple and wrote the list myself.

Material my daughter grabbed from nature to inspire her chalk art.

At night once my youngest (age 2) went to bed my oldest and I made chalk drawings inspired by nature. She had collected material during our outdoor exploration earlier in the day. We used chalk, and colored construction paper for our art projects. My oldest tends to get upset being told what to do and how to do it. At the age of 6 she isn’t old enough to do whatever she wants whenever she wants therefore I use art as a way for her to feel in control. Sometimes I’ll give her a simple suggestion and she’ll expand from there. Such as I said lets make nature inspired art later today would you like to gather supplies? In which she accepted and grabbed what she wanted. From there she decided what she wanted to draw and how to go about it.

My oldest daughters nature inspired chalk art.
Another piece my daughter made with chalk.
Chalk art I created using sticks.
More nature inspired chalk art I drew.

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Frog theme coloring pages for early readers.

Both my daughters (ages 2 and 6) enjoy coloring. It’s great to work on my youngest daughters fine motor skills and get to her to work on proper gripping of a marker, crayon, etc. In order to add educational value for my oldest I often make simple coloring pages with short sentences for her to work on her reading skills in a relaxed environment. When it comes to reading, sight words trip my daughter up and she often tries to sound them out therefore I bold sight words on the coloring pages as quick reminder that those words are best memorized. I keep the pictures simple because my oldest enjoys adding her own drawings into the pictures as she colors them. I recently made three frog theme coloring pages to get my oldest reading over the weekends when she tells me it isn’t learning time therefore she doesn’t have to read a book. As she colors the pages I’m able to get her to read the words allowing us to fit in reading time during the weekends when she doesn’t feel she has to read anything.

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Updating our living room setup to foster a play based learning approach.

My soon to be First Grader is currently on Summer Break. With that comes trying to keep both my daughters (age 2 and 6) learning without it feeling like school. For the summer we’ve turned to a play based method rather than a strict curriculum.

Keeping them busy, and learning through play can be time consuming and difficult when both kids would rather sit around watching screens all day. Therefore my husband and I brought down several of their toys from our upstairs playroom/game room area.

Although our living room is rather small we were able to set up the space comfortably enough for them to play together. It has been a success, I’ve been able to limit their screen time because their focus has been on their toys. Especially with my youngest (age 2) I’ve been able to incorporate basic learning into her pretend play time. My daughters have a play kitchen and in it they have alphabet cookies, a colorful cake, number eggs, shape eggs, etc. Throughout the setup I have had plenty of opportunity to talk about colors, letters, shapes and find things to count with my youngest.

Depending on your young ones interest you can throw in basic learning within many activities. For example if your your young ones are into playing with dolls you can point out the color of their hair, and outfits to create exposure to color learning. Or if your child is into cars you can do the same naming the color of each car as they play. My youngest enjoys playing with her toy cars that we keep in her bedroom. I also ask her to count the number of cars she is playing with. Both my daughters enjoy playing with their little dolls together.

We originally stored our board games in a small closet next to the bathroom, I wanted them to be easier for my daughters to get to. Therefore I placed them within a tote in the hallway. My oldest daughter allowed me to update the area although she often becomes attached to decorations she puts up and we still have a Christmas Tree decoration she hung up during Christmas above the board game storage. At least she approved of the new setup.

On the front door is our learning calendar and near our door is our book area.

By bringing the toys downstairs it has made them more accessible and easier to pull out and play with. The convenience of their location has opened up greater chances for me to throw in learning at their pace and with toys of their choosing.

Introducing my 6 year old to fractions.
Going over math skills to with dolls to keep my oldest exposed to basic math during summer. While my youngest counts the toys.

Since my daughter attends an online school I wanted her summer to feel like a real summer break as we still fit in enough learning to avoid the summer slide. Taking an at home approach to school it can be difficult to turn it off and separate home from a school environment. When the two are the same location and place. That’s why a play based summer approach felt the most fitting that way my daughter still experiences a break from school and at the same time she could learn with an open mind rather than becoming frustrated and overwhelmed feeling as if school never ends.

As someone myself stuck between a soon to be First Grader and an eager to learn toddler I’m always trying to bridge their learning gaps while making sure I use plenty of teaching methods suitable for both their ages. That’s why I choose to incorporate toys that they enjoy playing with into my educational methods. It allows me to develop a more in tune approach towards my children while they grow and learn. In the beginning when I set out to teach my oldest preschool at home my husband and I had planned on sending her to school once she got to Kindergarten, as with everything plans change and we must adapt. Throughout my experience I have learned not to be so hard on myself and allowing my parent guilt to doubt the process. Especially when my oldest is off on a tantrum that she doesn’t want to do school and she shouldn’t have to. Once she’s calmed down and ready to learn my youngest is right there in the action grabbing everything and running off laughing. The experience often times makes me feel as if I have no control over my own house which I’ve learned over time is one of my triggers in which I panic and get upset. Although now that our family has made it through the entire Kindergarten year I’ve learned it’s ok and nothing has to be done perfectly to achieve the right results. Eventually you will get there just keep going.

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Click here for a simple summer learning schedule.
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Setting up a basic summer learning schedule.

During summer break I want to keep my children flourishing and to keep my oldest daughter from losing what she learned this year in Kindergarten. Therefore I’ve written a Monday-Friday schedule to follow for both my daughters during summer break. When I was writing up their schedule I wanted to keep it simple, flexible, and thorough enough that it would help them keep up with their learning.

Youngest daughters daily list. (age 2)
Oldest daughters daily list. (age 6)
I forgot to include writing on our list and hand wrote it in afterwards.

For completing their Monday-Friday lists, I don’t make them follow any specific order. The idea is to check off the correct category as we complete a corresponding activity. In which I allow them to choose what they want to do for each. I try to keep it relaxed all awhile following a routine that keeps me on point as far as making sure I go over the basics as much as possible with my children. We started yesterday and being on day two we’ve been able to complete our lists both days, and neither of my children had conveyed feelings of being overwhelmed which is great sign so far.

Daily Calendar Time.

During calendar time I simply go over the month, year, and day of the week. Our season pocket I don’t keep up with because my youngest is constantly switching out the pieces. Currently she has the season of Winter up, and she tugs on the plastic part in which the season slot isn’t in good shape any more. Today since they didn’t show interest in listening to me go over the days of the week I followed up with a video they both like.

Days of the Week Song

Basic math with counting bears.
I added in a simple fraction lesson.

Today I pulled out our counting bears set. They’re great because during the time we have them out I’m able to work in color learning, the concept of sorting, basic math, and fine motor skills by using the tongs to pick up the bears. If you don’t have counting bears and aren’t interested in buying a set, you can easily grab colorful candy, colorful cereal, or even beads and get the same benefits out of it. I brought out a dry erase board and markers along side the counting bears in which I wrote out basic math problems and introduced the concept of fractions to my oldest as my daughters drew upon the empty space of the board.

Pretend play time, swimming at the beach.

I allow my daughters plenty of free play time as well. In which after counting bears they took a break from learning and began to pretend they were at a beach. We grabbed out a fish blanket, a shark pillow, a beach ball, and an old pillow that my daughters pretend is a floaty. Eventually we threw the beach ball around to get in a little active play time as well.

Outside playing in dirt.
Outside playing with chalk.
Outside taking chalk to a tree.

I took my daughters outside after we were done with our pretend play time because I knew it was supposed to rain and wanted to give them a chance to get out before it did. Although my youngest lasted 20 minutes outside due to the heat. She refused to wear shorts. They both played in the dirt, and then began to play with chalk. In which they gravitated towards a tree to draw all over that. I’ve learned to just go with it otherwise I only stress myself out worrying about how they’re doing everything. I’ve learned if we’re outside they’re going to find dirt, and it’s not worth being stressed over.

Alphabet time with alphabet cookies.
Sight word learning as they stand way to close to the television.

My oldest daughter didn’t feel like practicing her sight words today and kept arguing with me that she wanted to watch videos. As a compromise I found sight word videos online in which we watched that reinforced sight word learning in a way that she approved for the day. Although the second video we watch was long and her attention span swayed away from it. She focused long enough to qualify the video as sight word practice and check that off our list for the day.

Sight word video short.
Sight word video longer.

My youngest ready to read with me.
Checkup for the doll as I continued reading.

My youngest daughter made her way to her bedroom as my oldest took a break from playing and learning in order to have screen time. In our home screen time is a huge argument I try to do right and limit it although it’s met with much hostility and arguments from both my daughters. I allow them more than I’d like to admit sometimes although we fill our day with plenty of hands on learning to counterbalance it. My youngest daughter sat in her reading chair and asked me to read to her which doesn’t happen often. She grew tired of it, and grabbed her doll to play doctor. In which I asked if she wanted me to read to her doll to calm her down during her checkup in which she agreed. Giving me a longer opportunity to read to her.

My oldest daughter reading to me.
Writing time.
More writing time.

My oldest daughter has always been a reluctant learner. It is a struggle to get her to stay on point and find interest in reading and writing. Today wasn’t different than most days. Eventually she came around and wrote two pages. The only advice I can offer to someone with a reluctant learner is stick with it, keep trying let them take breaks when needed and keep trying new strategies and eventually something will stick.

Throwing in shape learning within drawing time.

As my oldest daughter focused on writing, my youngest daughter and I drew together. I drew a person made of shapes to work in a conversation about shapes for the day. Afterwards she decided she wanted to practice her scissor skills in which I allowed her to cut up a piece of paper however she wanted.

In order to to check off dance to educational songs for 20 minutes my daughters chose to do kid workout videos on the television. They have been enjoying Would you Rather workouts.

Would you Rather
Another Would you Rather that they like.

When we finished checking off our list I allowed my daughters to watch what they wanted and have screen time. Honestly keeping two kids busy an entire day every day is exhausting and eventually I run out of ideas and let them watch television. After my youngest daughter went to bed my oldest daughter and I had our nightly 30 minutes of play time of her choosing. In which we played a round of hide and seek and then she chose to play Halloween Costumes Get up and Move Alphabet Sounds Game.

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Keeping it simple as we finish up the schoolyear.

With school coming to an end for the schoolyear, I have been keeping the last few days simple. Filling them with fun unstructured learning. Which seems to help keep my oldest daughter calm and more interested in the learning process when we keep our lessons relaxed.

We enjoyed nature, by looking around for animals.
We tried to keep our distance, eventually the bunny hopped away.
My youngest built a book fort as I read books to her.

My daughters aren’t always interested in sitting down and reading. Therefore it can be difficult to get them to sit through a book and in time I’ve learned it’s ok. I just have to work with their attention span and keep trying. Rather than getting stressed out about it I just stay at their pace. Which means we can read several books in a setting although none of them may be read to the very end. My youngest often turns the pages skipping pages on purpose and telling me she doesn’t want that page she wants the next. I’ve learned to go with it, and keep reading, the most important part of the process is continuing. It doesn’t have to be done perfectly to count. It’s really just about reading and exposing young children to as much reading as possible. If that means your reading a book as the child is making a book fort it’s ok because keeping it fun is an important tool for keeping kids interested.

My oldest daughter reading during Play-School-Time.

Most nights after my youngest goes to bed my oldest and I have a designated playtime in which she decides what we play and I go along with it. Since we have introduced this concept it has helped her mood improve slightly. She is someone that likes to be in control of many things, and it has helped to an extent allowing her time at night just the two of us in which she determines what we play. Tonight she chose to play pretend school. Which was perfect because it got her to sit down and read to me in a way that she felt in control. It kept her interest and she actually read to me without getting upset and telling me she didn’t feel like doing school because she was in control of the activity. I often have to check in with myself and remind myself it’s ok it doesn’t have to be so serious. Reading and learning in general is meant to be fun otherwise kids aren’t going to want to do it.

Play-School-Time chalk board art, and math my daughter did on our magnetic chalk wall.
Chalk art during Play-School-Time.
My oldest daughters finished chalk drawing.
Chalk art we did together.
Another chalk art piece we did together.

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The boxed sets pictured above are great for early readers. The joke books pictured above are great for kids such as my daughter that enjoy jokes and aren’t always interested in reading books. They keep her entertained and give her more jokes to share with others. Ten little lady bugs, and If You Give a Mouse a Cookie are books my youngest daughter enjoys listening to.

(I am a participant in the Amazon Associates Program and any qualifying purchases made through affiliate links I may earn a commission on at no additional cost to you.) The chalknetic wall adhesive is what I use for my daughters magnetic chalk board on our wall. The magnetism isn’t strong and it can’t hold up heavy magnets. Although it works for what we use it for. The chalk set pictured above is what we used during our chalk art time. The paper we used I had bought at our local dollar store.

Thanks for reading and I hope some of our ideas inspire a fun simple approach to learning that can carry on into the summer.

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Build a Colorful Caterpillar game for young learners.

My youngest daughter (age 2) is always pointing out animals and bugs all around her because of that interest I’ve been gathering and making supplies for a bug theme learning unit to use throughout the summer for both my daughters. For a fun color learning game I made a template to print out, laminate for durability, and cut out. The concept of the game is to build a colorful caterpillar.

Colorful Caterpillar

I added green legs with different color words on them to use as an additional matching activity for early readers. I’m always trying to incorporate reading into games to keep them appropriate for my oldest daughter (age 6) as well.

The game can be played by laying the pieces out and allowing the children to grab them and build a caterpillar. Or for a more active version to get the kids up and moving you can hide the pieces throughout the house and or classroom and have the kids build the caterpillar as they find each piece. It can be done alone, or as a great co-op activity.

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Bee theme coloring pages for early readers.

My oldest daughter tends to panic when she sees spiders and other bugs and insects crawling around. Therefore I decided it felt fitting to learn all about bugs for the summer. To help make her a little less nervous around bugs by learning what they do and how they can be helpful.

I made several early reading coloring pages with a bee theme to get my daughter reading over the weekend that would go along with our summer theme we will be starting soon. When my daughter reads she gets really tripped up with sight words and often tries to sound them out. As a simple clue I bolded all sight words on the coloring pages that way she would know that it is a sight word and it’s a word best to be remembered rather than sounded out.

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The above markers and crayons are what I use with my youngest daughter (age 2) during coloring time. She was always getting into her older sisters (age 6) markers so I decided to buy her a set better suited for her age that would promote proper grip. The bees book is perfect for early readers such as my oldest daughter. It comes with just enough information yet not to much in which it is overwhelming to read. The box sets are perfect for early readers. I bought the Kindergarten set to cover levels a-d to help my daughter get through Kindergarten. The First Grade set I bought to prepare my daughter for what she will be expected to read in First Grade.

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Earth day superheroes made out of recycled materials.


Today for Earth day my daughters and I made our own Earth day super heroes out of recycled materials.

My youngest and I used various toys and popsicle sticks to make our Earth Day superheroes. When finished my youngest and I taped our superheroes within an old cereal box. I cut out the front of the box to display the superheroes and hung it in my daughters room. We named our superheroes fan-man (the yellow fan), baby shark (the red smiley face toy), Yoyoyo (the red fan), and Harmonica (the harmonica on popsicles sticks). My daughter named all but Fan-Man. Her superheroes names were inspired by two of her favorite songs we often listen to on repeat which are Baby Shark and Police Car Song.

Earth made out of cardboard, construction paper scraps, and an index card.

I had put aside the front part of the cereal box I had cut off to display our superheroes in. I ended up using that piece to cut out a circle to make an Earth in which we placed behind the superheroes. We used construction paper scraps and glued them onto the circle. My daughter placed a sticker on it in which she had ripped the head off of by accident onto our Earth. She then glued an index card on top of it.

My oldest daughters superhero. Garbage cleaner Joshua.
My oldest daughters superhero. Garbage cleaner Bob.

Tomorrow I’m going to have her write a story all about her Earth Day superheroes and how they help save our planet. It’ll be perfect for her half an hour writing time we are suppose to get in each school day. In which we do our best, she often argues about her writing time. In which I explain it is a requirement.

To all the other parents, caregivers, and or teachers out there I hope our Earth Day superheroes inspire you to dig through your recycle bin and make your own. It’s a fun art activity and can be turned into a fun writing activity as kids make up a story of their own all about their hero.

My oldest daughters messy work area with her art supplies and random toys all around.
My youngest daughters messy work area, as she digs in and gets to work.

I’ll be honest the mess that happens during arts and crafts time in our house drives me crazy. The clean up takes time and makes me reluctant to start a project. It’s worth it though because they have fun, and get a chance to express themselves and work on their creative skills. I am a believer that creativity is within us all it’s just a matter of using it as with any skill. It’s an important skill to have for anyone even if art isn’t something they enjoy doing. Creativity is used in many professions a baker creating a cake, a doctor trying to find a diagnosis among many things. Creative literally means using your imagination and original ideas, and a doctor although can look through a medical journal searching for a diagnosis at one point or another every illness was unknown. Sometimes they need to think out of the box and enhancing our creative intelligence makes that possible.

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In our house I bring out the crayola easel during art. It’s a reasonable price and is filled with what we use the most during arts and crafts time.

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