Exciting Imaginary Play with Your Grandchild


Young kids love imaginary play — stuffed animals that talk, tents built out of chairs and blankets, dress ups and magical accessories. Imaginary play can bring stories to life and can also make everyday moments memorable. For example, you can extend your arms like an airplane and fly around the house, stopping in different rooms while imagining exciting locations. You can also bring play to the Jewish holidays, for example, making a birthday party for the trees on Tu BiShevat or doing a Hanukkah scavenger hunt around the house to search for the oil. Pretend play can help grandchildren imagine themselves in the characters and stories of Jewish tradition and create joyful memories with you at the same time.  

Here are 6 ways to use imaginary play with your grandchild, either in person or at a distance:  

1. Invent a story together.

Play a game in which you take turns inventing details of a story. You can begin with an opening line such as, “Once upon a time, there was a magic forest.” Then, your grandchild can offer the next line, for example, “A group of explorers found the forest when they _____.” Take turns going back and forth, each adding new detail to the story and building on the previous line. This game is a great one to play while completing a task, like finishing a meal at the dinner table, driving, or waiting in line.  

Emi with her animals on couch

2. Play with puppets.

You may also enjoy bringing a story to life in miniature. First, you can create puppets for your characters. Here are a few ideas: 

  • Draw pictures of your characters on paper or paper bags or find pictures from magazines or Google images. Cut them out and attach them to popsicle sticks, straws, spoons, or even brooms.
  • Make sock puppets. Take old socks and draw faces on them in marker, or sew buttons on for facial features.
  • Cut out boxes and create puppets decorated with household items such as toothpicks, cotton balls, and pieces of string.

Now, sit behind a couch or chair, which can become your puppet stage. With puppets, you can create multiple characters and bring a larger story to life. Your puppet can also move in ways that you can’t! For example, on Passover you can create a puppet of baby Moses in the basket and puppeteer him down a small blue towel for the Nile River.

If you are at a distance, a video call window can become the perfect puppet stage. You can experiment with moving your puppet into the frame, with your face hidden from the camera, so that it appears as if the puppet is talking to your grandchild and moving on its own. Your grandchild will think this is hilarious! You can also play with scale, making the puppet bigger by putting it closer to the camera or smaller by moving it away.

Click HERE for fun with homemade puppets.  

3. Use play to add fun to routines.

You can also use dramatic play in helping with routines and activities. For example, you can invent a silly character to make mealtime or tooth brushing more fun and less frustrating. Pretend to brush a stuffed animal’s teeth (even if it doesn’t have a mouth — that just adds to the silliness!) Talk in funny voices, alternating between the grown-up voice and the animal’s voice. By using imaginative play, you can make everyday actions an adventure. For example, to get your grandchild to take a bath, you can draw a simple treasure map and become a pirate character, with each activity getting the child closer to finding the “treasure.” This simple play might help you and your grandchild get past challenging moments — hair washing! — in their routine.  

4. Play in character.

If your grandchild really enjoys imaginative play, each time they come over or you talk to them on screen, you could dress up in a different costume and greet them as a pirate, a grocer, an artist or a gardener. Then you can play around those themes. For example, you can pretend to go shopping around your home and take turns at playing shopkeeper and shopper. Or have a basket filled with simple costume pieces and accessories (hats, scarves, costume jewelry, wands) and have your grandchild go through the items, finds inspiration, and start the scene.  

If you have young grandchildren, you can also set up a space in your house with baskets of household items (pots, play food, toy figures) and let your grandchild direct the play around those items. 

You can also use imaginative play to introduce characters from Jewish holiday stories. Purim provides lots of opportunity to act out the roles of King (Ahasuerus), Queen (Vashti or Esther), Villain (Haman), and Hero (Esther or Mordecai).

5. Use music for play.

Create a band with your grandchild and pretend to put on a concert. The audience can be a sibling, or dolls and stuffed animals. You can set up a stage area and announce your grandchild’s entrance to the stage! You can use toy instruments or listen to the sounds of real instruments and watch videos of orchestras or bands. Then, put on some music and pretend you are playing along.   

6. Play dramatic games.

Here are some ideas for easy and simple dramatic games to get your creativity flowing. 

Guess What I Am or Guess What I Am Doing: In this game you act out either being an animal or an object, say, a broom or a dreidel, and have your grandchild guess what you are or what you are doing. You can even add in sound effects. Then switch roles with your grandchild. Alternative: Instead of acting, use word clues. For example: “I am a fruit. I am yellow and have a peel. Sometimes you eat me for breakfast. What am I?” or “I am soft and fluffy. You put your head on me at night. What am I?” (This is a great game for the car.) 

This Is a…: In this game, you take a household item, and say, “This is a plate, but it can also be…” and make up an imaginary use for the item; for example: “This plate can also be a steering wheel!” and make the movements using the object to act out its new use. Or “this is a piece of matzah, but it can also be…” (maybe a square frisbee!). Now your grandchild can take a turn imagining the item as something else. You can go back and forth and stretch your imaginations by coming up with new ideas. 

Statues in the Museum: In this game you become the clay and your grandchild becomes the sculptor. Ask them to move your body into a shape, and you need to freeze in that shape to be their statue. Now switch roles. You can also tell your grandchild to imagine they are a statue in a museum and freeze in a pose. When you turn your back, the statue can move and be silly, but when you turn back around, the statue has to be perfectly still. This game will most certainly make your grandchild giggle! 

Theme Day: In this game you set up an imaginary scene, for example, a trip to the zoo. You might gather stuffed animals. Designate a place in the house for each species, or your grandchild can group the animals as they wish. 

Old business cards, cut-up junk mail, or pieces of paper can be the tickets, which you can buy using play money. While visiting each animal, younger children can make that animal’s sound. Older children can share what they know about the animal’s habitat or diet. You might even set up a zoo gift shop with trinkets together and visit that at the end of the play date. 

Other ideas for theme days are; doll and animal carnival or fun fair; doll talent show; and maker space with building equipment, robot parts, and gears/levers. 

Click HERE to read about the benefits of playful learning. 

In all your imaginary play, try to let your grandchild take the lead. Let them explore the tools, toys, activities, and word games according to their own interests and sense of joy and curiosity. They can be the leader and teacher and you can be their companion, cheerleader, and loving supporter.  

Jonathan Shmidt Chapman is the founder of The K’ilu Company, creating projects that activate Jewish early childhood education through theater and imaginative play. He is the creator of  K’ilu Kits — interactive audio adventures that bring Jewish holiday stories to life — and Play-Along Parsha — a resource for 3-to-6-year-olds and their families to creatively engage with the weekly Torah portion. Jonathan was previously the Producer of Family Programming at Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts in New York.

Special thanks to Andrea Gardner for her expert review

Photographic Credits
Banner courtesy of Unsplash
Child and stuffed animals by Terry Kaye

Child with play money by Gail Buchbinder
All other photographs by Jonathan Shmidt Chapman