The Family in Pretend Play


The bond that links your true family is not one of blood, but of respect and joy in each other’s life.
– Richard Bach



In time, the experiences Greysen and Moon share with us and our extended family will, I hope, help them develop a sense of belonging. As Greysen’s relationships with us (her family) grow, I often speak about us as a family much in the same way I expect most families do. All these conversations and her own interests are reflected in her play.


She imposes her idea of what and who family is on most anything.




Greysen placed the penguins in the top photo together animals and named them Mama, Dad, and identified the third little penguin as herself.  That’s is us at the “aquarium.”  She’s also taken us to the “beach.” Sadly, sister is not with us. This prompted me to think it best to try and get her some representation.


Wooden play people are popular in early childhood classrooms and are often the basis of Waldorf-inspired toys. These unspecific representations of people are ideal for open-ended play so that the person’s “identity” can be designated by children’s imaginations.  In her play so far, Greysen has used whatever she finds to represent people, but I wondered how having family dolls would influence her play.


I bought a couple of these peg dolls, and Mike found some wood pieces from the hardwood store to represent us.  I painted these and handed them off to Mike for some finishing touches.




He added facial features as he sees them – two smiling girls. Lovely. In retrospect, dolls without smiles would have also been useful in play because they would have been able to be used to represent other feelings. Regardless, from the type of play she does already, I imagine that these two wooden gals will have some happy and not so happy days imposed upon them.



When Mike and I painted ourselves, we kept this in mind. Here we stand, expressionless, as a family.


Thinking again about the penguin families, I had a sort of play epiphany. Why hadn’t we collected all her play animals in families?


For all the time and efforts I used to make to try to make connections for the children in the classrooms, it never occurred to me to think about relating the idea of family to the other types of toys that the children use daily.


We recently added these animals to our collection. I love these animals because they are of nice quality and anatomically correct, which means lots of nursing animals.


This “a-ha” moment has changed the way I think about her playthings. Here I am, always trying to think of ways to ensure her play is based on relationships, and I nearly overlooked spontaneous play based on her relationships.




I wonder where else play centered around the idea of family will pop up next?


2 thoughts on “The Family in Pretend Play

    1. Me too! We have two types. Some are Schliech. These our are favorite but are getting harder to find in stores in our area. They used to carry them at Target here’s an online retailer link at least for checking them out . They are sold individually but in male and female and female versions – even suckling ones. We also have Safari Ltd animals which are great for all the same reasons. We can buy find these at Michael’s. Happy toy hunting!

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