How to Play House

Three Parts:Creating a Make-Believe SpacePlaying House with Your KidsEncouraging Creative Play

As children grow, they are exposed to new experiences and their imaginations expand. In an effort to better understand their worlds, children pretend play, or role play. When children play house, they are exploring what it means to be a mommy and a daddy. Instead of requiring your child to play house in a certain way, equip them create their own rules, stories, and worlds of make believe.

Part 1
Creating a Make-Believe Space

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    Designate a pretend play space. Provide your child a space (or two) in your home, apartment, or yard that is a special make-believe space. In this space, your child is free to create and explore imaginary worlds. Your child is in control of the space and directs the pretend play that occurs within it. The space may be a bedroom, playroom, family room, patio, or yard.[1] If you are limited on space, it is still possible to designate a play area for your children. Consider:
    • If your children currently are not sharing a room, move them into one bedroom and transform the second room into a play area.
    • Make a mobile play station. Place all of your children's toys in a movable chest or tub. You can move the toys from room to room throughout the week or day.
    • If the weather permits, take your child to a public park or outdoor play area.[2]
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    Create a playhouse. Playhouses provide your little one with a magical, transformative space in which to dream up new worlds and act out familiar scenes. The playhouse you create does not need to be grand and elaborate (although it certainly could be). Many children are thrilled to play within a pretend home built out of cardboard boxes.[3]
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    Decorate the playhouse. The playhouse is your child's personal space. To give them a sense of ownership of the space, allow them to decorate their playhouse. Provide them with the decorations and tools, such as markers, stickers, crayons, craft paper, and other odds and ends, and then let their creativity take over. They may choose transform the cardboard boxes into a pirate ship or a space station instead of creating a traditional house.[4]
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    Equip the playhouse with home-themed toys. When children play house, they are exploring the roles of mommy and daddy. While playing house, your child will often imitate tasks they see you perform in the home. This type of play is benefited by toys based on household items. Fill the playhouse with mini home appliances, food items, dishes, cleaning tools, power tools, and furniture.[5]
    • Too many toys can overwhelm some children. Only keep out a small sample of your child’s toys. Throughout the following weeks or months, you can rotate through the toys to keep your child engage in the pretend play.[6]

Part 2
Playing House with Your Kids

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    Play with your child. While it is tempting to sit back and watch your child play, or narrate their make-believe, playing together is beneficial to you and your child. When you join in on your child’s play, you teach them new things and develop a lasting bond with your little one. Actively involve yourself in the game of make-believe by coming down to your child’s level and role playing with them.[7]
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    Note what toys interest your child. When you join your child in play, it is important that you allow them to take the lead. This is their imaginary world, you are just a guest. Before you jump into the game of house, observe what toys your child is using.
    • If your child is drawn to the kitchen toys, direct your role play towards food-related make-believe. Perhaps you are a guest over for dinner or a child wanting breakfast.
    • If your child wants to play with the cleaning tools, gear yourself up to become their helper as they clean their playhouse.[8]
    • If your child does not know how to pretend play, you may need to start of the role play. Once they are comfortable, step back and let they take control.
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    Imitate and expand upon your child’s play. After noticing the toys your child is drawn to, observe how they are using the toys. If they are not using a toy, such as an iron or drill, in a traditional manner, don’t correct them. Instead, mimic their actions. By copying their actions, you will encourage them to complete new actions. Occasionally, introduce your child to a new, or more common, way of using the toy. Complete the action once and then wait to see if your child copies it.[9]

Part 3
Encouraging Creative Play

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    Introduce your child to new experiences. When you expose your child to new experiences, you provide them with material for their pretend play. For example, when you take your child to the zoo, you provide them with the knowledge and language they need to recreate and elaborate upon this experience.[10] In order to equip your child to play house, you need to model and and explain different household experiences. These may include:
    • Cleaning
    • Cooking
    • Folding laundry
    • Paying bills
    • Mowing the lawn
    • Watering flowers
    • Caring for a sibling
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    Provide your child with terms for new things. Children encounter new things each and every day. Instead of passing by these items, people, places, and feelings, take a moment to provide your child with the correct name and a minor explanation. Doing so will increase their vocabulary, enhance their understanding of the world around them, and heighten their creativity.
    • You can label basic items, such as trucks, mailboxes, shopping carts, and coffee mugs.
    • You can name people or professionals you encounter. They may include mailmen, cashiers, zookeepers, or extended family members.
    • You can tell your child when you have arrived at the store and pool, or in the laundry room or kitchen.
    • You can describe feelings to your child, such as hunger, anger, excitement, or fear.[11]
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    Read to your child. When you read your child books, or tell them stories, they gain several important pretend play skills. First, stories can inspire your child’s pretend play scenarios. To teach them how to play house, read them books that are set in the home. Second, books introduce your child to new dilemmas, characters, and settings. Lastly, stories provide children with an understanding of how imaginative tales are structured. They come to learn that stories have a beginning, middle, and an end.
    • As you read, pose open-ended questions to your child. These may include questions like: “what do you think will happen next?” or “why do you think the character did that?”
    • Remain enthusiastic as you read.
    • After reading your child a story, you can encourage them to draw pictures based on the tale you read.[12]
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    Don’t place limits on your child. Every child is unique. Children are not required to play in the same way, imagine the same things, or like the same games. Instead of pushing your child to imagine a specific situation, such as taking care of a family, or execute a certain task, such as cooking dinner, allow them to take the lead on their pretend play. Encourage them to use their creativity and explore the ideas that come to them.[13]


  • Mix other games in like "doctor" or "school" and pretend you are a teacher or a doctor.
  • Use a pretend vehicle to drive around in.
  • Find a range of tools to clean up with, i.e. wooden broom, mop etc. Kids love to 'spring clean' around the house.

Things You'll Need

  • Space
  • House-themed toys
  • Playhouse

Article Info

Categories: Games of Imagination | Preschool and Kindergarten