While the littlest kiddos enjoying playing with toys, it's pretend play that really puts the world at the fingertips of a young child. Open-ended materials like ZDough can help foster that kind of play because with a little creativity it can become anything! If your little one seems unsure how to get started with this kind of material (or smashes it a few times and declares, "I'm done!") try these strategies to inspire and extend their play:
1. Provide props- Often times a few well-chosen items can help to set the stage for fantastic pretend play. A pair of oven mitts and a cookie sheet could inspire some ZDough "baking", while tea cups and stuffed animals provide the setting for a ZDough tea party!
2. Model what it looks like to pretend- If you've gathered a pile of plastic dinosaurs and are ready for them to tromp through the ZDough landscape, help your kiddo get started with something more specific than, "Why don't you play with your dinosaurs?" Try picking up a dinosaur, making tracks through the play dough, and saying, "Come on guys, it's time for an adventure! Follow me and let's see if we can climb the tallest mountain in all the land! I just hope we get there before that pesky T-Rex..."
3. Make a suggestion and then stand back- If your kiddos are anything like mine, they want you to play with them. When they start to get lost in the world of pretend they may become more independent in their play, but chances are they'll still want you to participate. Try setting the stage for their play with the strategies above and then let them take charge and see where things go. If it looks like their interest is fading or that they can't quite get into the groove, try making a suggestion like, "I wonder if Mr. Panda would like a cookie with his tea?" or "Wow! It looks like the dinosaurs made it all the way over the mountain. They must be thirsty. Do you think they might need to go find a lake where they can take a drink?" Your suggestion may fall on deaf ears, but it might be just the thing that helps your kiddo to try something new or take their play in a new direction.