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imaginative play | Atomic Bee Ranch

Tag Archives: Imaginative Play

Summer of Mess: Ocean World

2015-07-30 11.52.59It’s been really hot here this week so I decided to do another ice excavation/exploration. I took two plastic bowls and froze some sea creatures and stones in layers. The effect was pretty cool, but Cam was ready to go in after about 10 minutes because it was just so hot. That and all the ice had melted. 


2015-07-30 11.53.17So freezing in layers was pretty easy:

  • Choose a smallish bowl (I used our IKEA children’s bowls) fill the bottom with a thin layer and put it in the freezer for about an hour.
  • Once it’s firm enough to take some objects on it plus more water, layer in your ocean bottom (or whatever ground cover you want). Don’t cover all the ice on the bottom, you’ll need some exposed to the next layer of water to keep the ice “cube” solid. Pour water into the bowl and fill it up enough to cover the tops of your bottom objects. At this point I also added in a plastic eel in one bowl and a starfish in the other.
  • Freeze for another hour or so until the layer of ice is fairly solid. The time this takes will, of course, be dependent on how large a bowl or container you are using. To keep track of time I set our kitchen timer which kept me from completely forgetting about them.
  • Again remove the bowls from the freezer and add another layer of objects. This time I put an octopus and a ray in them. Then I filled up nearly to the top with water and popped them back into the freezer for two days until we were ready to use them.
  • When it was time to play, I filled the water table and dumped them right in. In a couple minutes the bowls slid right off and Cam could see the bottom and top layers. The ice was not clear which made for some fun discovery of what was in the middle. 

Summer of Mess: Frog World

This was so much fun! Cam played with it for a long time and we used it as a set up for a playdate too and our little friend also liked it. Set up was super simple: throw a few foam lily pads and a few plastic frogs into the water table and, voila!, you have frog world. I am saving the pieces to do this again. 

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If you try this…

…I think this is a great “small world” play for kids who don’t like really specific set ups. The frogs and lily pads are just out there and they don’t have to make up stories or anything to go with them. Just squirt, dump, and splash water. 

…look for little frogs at the dollar store. I found this set of plastic jumping frogs that are similar to tiddlywinks and they worked beautifully. The book set up had those expensive, accurate ones and I didn’t want to spend $12 on a tube of frogs that might not get used again. 

…bust out the jewels. I have a ton of those glass jewels that go in vases. You can find bags of them at the dollar store or check thrift shops. But they make excellent additions to frog world. 

…be sure to use foam to cut out lily pads (again check the dollar store). It’s lightweight and floats. 

…I set this up in our water table, but you could just as easily do this in a big plastic tub or the bathtub. 

Summer of Mess: Fizzing Car Wash

Another fun sensorial activity from 150+ Screen-Free Activities. You make some colored baking soda, some colored shaving cream, and fill a squeeze bottle with vinegar. 

2015-06-13 10.08.11I put down a towel inside on the floor and put everything in a deep bin. I was so surprised how much Cam enjoyed this. She asked to play with it twice the first day and as we were going to bed asked to play with it again the next day. And it kept her entertained for quite some time. She did want help really rinsing the cars off at the end and help washing her hands. 

If you try this…

…fill another squeeze bottle with water for real rinsing. 

…when mixing food coloring into the shaving cream, don’t use a whisk like I did. It gets trapped inside the whisk and is a huge pain to get out. Just use a spoon. 

…don’t use wooden cars and don’t use those cars that you can pull back and let go. They have a spring in them that will rust. 

…have rags on hand for wiping hands and wiping wet cars. 

Reflection: 2014/23

Dropping Out: After a lot of deliberation we’ve decided to pull Cam out of her preschool program. It has nothing to do with the program, the teachers, or the school. We love all those things and they ironed out all the wrinkles from the beginning of the year. It’s that Cam still cries at least once a week when I leave and tells us at home that she doesn’t want to go to school. She is also not really socializing with the kids. She just hangs around the adults. I know this will bring out all those opinions that this means she needs the socialization and that this is all because she’s an only child, but I think she just isn’t ready. We’ll try again in six months when she is older/more mature. There is also the drive to school which is realistically 40-50 minutes in the morning. That’s a lot of time in the car and I hate it. 

We are going to be sad to say goodbye to the school, but they have encouraged us to keep in touch and we intend to. 

New Interests: Cam has been drawing these abstract pictures on index cards, I call them her tiny pictures. They’re quite interesting and grouped together they are quite striking. Often, though, Cam tells me they are maps. She is suddenly very interested in making maps. I’m going to try and develop something that will steer her toward looking at and making more maps. 

Right around Halloween Cam began pretending to be a dragon and wanted to get her stuffed dragon, Puff, out. This interest has seemed to stick around so I got a ton of dragon books out of the library to see what it is she is drawn to with dragons. She may also get a dragon costume for Christmas.

Handwork: Play Canopy

Play CanopyAfter rearranging Cam’s room a few months ago there was a particular corner that just needed a little something more. It really needed something to draw the eye up and fill the space. To accomplish this I made a play canopy. It isn’t perfect, but Cam loves it and it was really simple to make. My husband was actually the one who came up with the idea to use an embroidery hoop and pushed us to go out and buy the supplies. It looks like a long process but it won’t take long- a couple hours at most depending on your sewing skills. 


  • sewing machine
  • large embroidery hoop (the bigger the better)
  • panels of tulle (we used four, each one a different color; the number of panels you need will depend on the width of the fabric and the size of the hoop, be sure the number of panels will be able to go all the way around your hoop and overlap each other a bit)
  • ribbon or string (to gather the top)
  • hook to hang it

What to do:

  1. Measure the height of your ceiling. This will determine how long each panel of tulle should be. We have 8 foot ceilings so we bought 3 yard lengths.
  2. Fold the top of the each panel of tulle over. Stitch it down so that it makes a hem at the top. This is where you will thread the ribbon or string through and gather the top. 
  3. Determine where you want your hoop to fall along the panel and in relation to your ceiling. This may depend on how high your ceiling is and how wide your hoop is. Stitch a basting or gathering stitch. I stitched around 30 inches down from the top. 
  4. Measure the circumference of your hoop if you don’t know it already. Divide that number by the number of panels you have. Add in the amount you want each panel to overlap. Add this number in twice (once for each side). This number is the width you need to gather your panels down to. So if your hoop is 45 inches in circumference and you have five panels: 45/5= 9 inches. If you want them to overlap by 3 inches add in 6 inches. Gather the panel to 15 inches wide.
  5. Open the hoop up and start to place the panels around the circumference. Place the hoops where the gathering stitch is. Put the hoops back together and begin to tighten them a little so it holds the panels in place while you adjust them. This part was really tricky for me. Feel free to curse as you do this. Don’t worry if they don’t line up perfectly. Just be sure the gathering stitch is hidden. When the panels are in place tighten the hoop completely.
  6. Run the ribbon through the top hem and gather. I used two pieces of ribbon and gathered two panels onto each. I then tied bows to connect the two ribbons- one bow on either side. I used the bows to hang the hoop, but you could just expose a bit of ribbon or string on either side and use that to hang it. 
  7. Place the hook in the ceiling and hang your canopy.

As a side note, the picture of the canopy doesn’t show it where it was actually hanging. We have since had to move it. 

For Your Classroom: Letters and Postcards

About a year ago I subscribed to a couple of magazines for Cam, Ranger Rick, Jr. and High Five (Highlights for younger kids). While she has enjoyed the reading the magazines, recently she has really gotten interested in getting them out of the mailbox. Whenever she sees me check for mail she asks if she got a new magazine. I think everyone loves to receive mail. Not bills of course, but letters and cards and magazines. 

Letter writing and playing Post Office is a great way to encourage literacy and imagination. And your child doesn’t have to be writing or reading yet to enjoy “writing” a letter. They can simply draw a picture or scribble out “words”. You can write them letters, too. Just a card with their name inside will help familiarize them with what their name looks like written out. 

Letters & Postcards


The Day It Rained Hearts by Felicia Bond: I know I’ve talked about this book before, but I just love it. Cornelia Augusta finds a variety of hearts in a rainstorm and uses them to make Valentine’s cards for her friends which she then mails. It’s such a sweet story about how touching it is to receive a handmade card in the mail. 

The Seven Little Postmen by Margaret Wise Brown: An old classic Golden Book that is still in print. It shows you how a letter from a little boy passes through the postal system to get to his grandmother. The illustrations are funny and have a lot to look at (keep your eye out for the letter) and the story is really engaging. Some of the methods may be a bit outdated, but it’s still relevant. 

The Jolly Little Postman or Other People’s Letters by Allan and Janet Ahlberg: The jolly postman delivers letters to fairy tale characters then returns home at night to his own pot of tea and mail. Not only are the references to the fairy tales clever, but this book has the actual letters he delivers in it. Each time he visits a new person (or animal) there is a pocket that looks like an envelope that has a letter and often something else to pull out and read. So Cinderella gets a letter from her publisher and a copy of the book they are publishing for her. We love this book, and although you have to be a bit gentle with it, it is so worth that lesson. 

Angelina‚Äôs Invitation to the Ballet by Katherine Holabird: I am less familiar with this one, but it has the same format as The Jolly Postman, with letters to pull out and read. It would be good for those fans of Angelina or the ballet. It is out of print so you may have to find a used copy or check your local library system (which is where I found the copy I read).

*I am waiting on a few books from the library to read through and decide if I want to include them here. I will update as I get them in and reflect on them.

Update: 9/25/2014:

The Post Office Book: Mail and How It Moves by Gail Gibbons: This has surprisingly little text for a Gibbons book, but there are tons of pictures which help tell the story of how the post office receives, sorts, processes, moves, and delivers mail. I like that the colors in it are red, white and blue like the post office and the limited palette in some ways focuses your attention in the drawings so you can read them. A good general information book. It may be a bit outdated (I’m sure there are more computers and automation now), but for the most part it’s still very current. 

The Post Office by David and Patricia Armentrout: This book is less detailed about the mailing process which might make it a slightly better fit for younger kids than Gibbons’ book. Instead of drawings The Post Office book features photographs for illustrations. It is clearly much more recent because it shows a more expensive stamp, an automated postage machine and new machines. There is a great two-page spread detailing how to address an letter. 

A Letter to Amy by Ezra Jack Keats: Another classic from Keats. Peter wants to invite his friend and neighbor Amy to his birthday party. To make the invitation more special he decides to make an invitation and mail it. On his way to the mailbox though, a gust of wind carries the letter off. Peter chases it around and catches it just as Amy rounds the corner. Unfortunately Amy is knocked down in the process and runs away crying while Peter slips the letter into the mail. Now he isn’t sure if she’ll be there for his party. A good story about why you might mail a letter as well as a friendship. 


Mail Carrier’s Song

(Sung to Row, Row, Row Your Boat)

Write, write, Write your cards,

and lots of letters, too!

I will bring them to your friends,

And maybe they’ll write back soon!

(Source: http://www.preschool-plan-it.com/post-office.html; You may want to visit this site they have a ton of ideas for a post office theme in a classroom.)

Dramatic Play Area Ideas

Setting up an area with supplies for a post office makes a great dramatic play area that also incorporates literacy. You could also use this as an opportunity to write thank you notes to friends and family if you have recently had a holiday or birthday celebration. Here are some ideas for things to include:

  • Postman Costume for dress up
  • A small canvas bag can become a mail sack for deliveries
  • Cards or stationary from the dollar store or the dollar bin (that way when they scribble on a lot of them, you don’t feel so bad)
  • Stamps (either one cent stamps or stickers that look like stamps)
  • Pens, pencils, markers
  • An example letter (so they can copy the format of the envelope and even the letter inside)
  • Address labels (I get a ton of those address labels from charities, I put those out for Cam to use)
  • A mail box (both for mailing and for receiving letters; we used an old mail box we found in our garage, but you could just as easily create one from a shoebox)
  • A few boxes for packages (the post office has official boxes, you can snag a few for free)

 DIY & Activities

DIY Cardboard Mailbox  If you have a large cardboard box laying around and feel motivated, this would be so awesome for posting letters. 

Writing Station from An Everyday Story I scaled this idea way down for Cam since she isn’t ready to actually write letters or word. A small pencil holder with stamps and stickers, pencils and a couple pens, and some cards and envelopes. 

Draw Your Own Postcard A printable postcard from the Picklebums blog that has a large blank space on the front so you can draw your own postcard. Alternatively you could simple cut some heavy cardstock down to the size of a postcard (approximately 4×6). What I love most about this printable is that the back of the postcard is included with the address lines, a place for the stamp and the line that separates the address and letter portion. 

Reflection: 2014/3

Reading: In my quest for knowledge about as many of the alternative educational philosophies I am reading Waldorf Education: A Family Guide. Waldorf is not my first choice for academic instruction, but I am keeping an open mind while reading about it and have found that many of the foundational principles and overarching philosophies are things I agree with.

Playing: Cam’s imaginative play is really taking off as are her language skills. I can’t help but wonder if the two are connected. She “goes to work”, bathes her animal buddies, even travels to Monterey. As someone with very fond memories of all the imaginative play games I had growing up, it excites me to see her playing this way.

Making: I have a number of projects going right now that I need to focus more on finishing up. Cam should have a tool belt soon, a peg counting box, tactile letters, and number rods.

Our Toy Philosophy: Part 4

I recently read a post from Racheous: Loveable Learning blog encouraging the use of real tools and items in children’s play. I think Rachel put to words something we’ve also been doing with many of Cam’s creative play toys.

The Montessori Method definitely encourages using real items that are sized down for children, such as tables and chairs, aprons, and kitchen utensils, and the Reggio Emilia Approach encourages the use of real materials in the atelier, such as oil pastels, paints, and scissors. I think we’ve taken that one step further and given Cam a number of items for her creative/imaginative play that are real adult items. She really seems to love most of them, especially her barcode scanner.

Just to name a few of the tools:

  • old rotary telephone & phone book
  • barcode scanner for her grocery store
  • garden tools including a wheel barrow
  • boxes and containers from our real food in her grocery store
  • carpet sweeper, broom, spray bottles and rags for cleaning
  • basket of maps
  • tool box full of real tools: hammer, saw, clamps, wrench, screwdrivers, etc.

Small pieces

Now I know the both the Waldorf and the Reggio Emilia approaches encourage lose, open-ended pieces in the imaginative play areas to encourage them to develop their imagination, but I think it’s okay to have a mix of real and open-ended toys. We have tons of basic blocks, small wooden pieces, marbles, tiles, colored balls, recycled materials, etc. And Cam plays with those for sure. She can actually be surprisingly creative when imagining what these things can be and in applying them to her building. But nothing beats the look on her face when she finds a barcode and runs to her room to scan it.