when i was little, i spent my days with an imaginary dog named elizabeth that came everywhere with me.  when my little sister turned five, she received a pair of ruby red glitter slippers from "dorothy" in the mail and we spent our days making wishes with them.  when i started school, i spent my days writing stories of faraway lands where princes and princesses reigned.  in college, i nannied for a two-year-old little girl and we spent our days running wild in a garden surrounded by fairies and animals that could talk.  and now as a mama, i spend my days creating a fantasy land around my little one, exploring, adventuring, and re-discovering this world that we live in.  because a child's job is to play, and i suppose it's a mama's job as well.

young children learn by using their imagination, pretend play helping to develop emotional and social skills, language skills, and thinking skills, so the more you can engage your little one in this type of play, the better.

i read a story on npr that discussed the importance of pretend play and it's role in building critical cognitive skills. pretend play "actually helped build a critical cognitive skill called executive function. Executive function has a number of elements, such as working memory and cognitive flexibility. But perhaps the most important is self-regulation — the ability for kids to control their emotions and behavior, resist impulses, and exert self-control and discipline. Executive function — and its self-regulation element — is important. Poor executive function is associated with high dropout rates, drug use and crime. In fact, good executive function is a better predictor of success in school than a child's IQ."

one of our favorite activity as of late has been collecting things in buckets.  we have started bringing this green dollar store bucket with us everywhere today and it has been the greatest source of entertainment, always imagining that our treasures are so much more than they are.  we spent this morning at the park, collecting green leaves for all of the caterpillars.  holden carefully gathered each and every green leaf in his close proximity, looking up proudly with each find before running back to drop his finds into the bucket.  after we had a bucket full of leaves, we went on a caterpillar hunt, looking under rocks, in the garden bed, and on the path for any sign of caterpillar life.  we didn't find any, but the search itself was more the point of our game anyways.

to create your own game with your little one, all you need is bucket.

you can even incorporate color, shapes, numbers, or other things your child is currently learning into the collecting activity.  sometimes i ask holden to find all of the green leaves or all of the yellow leaves  and other times i ask him to put only two leaves into the bucket.  we collect acorns, woodchips, sticks, pinecones, or whatever else we can find on the ground around us, and then often carry the bucket around as we look to share our acorns with the squirrels or our sticks with the birds.