Not By the Hair of My Chinny Chin Chin

Who says our kids need pretend playtime? It’s really a lot less demanding on us as adults to read them books or let them look at books (thought this is obviously important as well), let them watch TV, or play those educational games with iPads. Why should we go to all the hassle of providing props, setting up the environment, sometimes teaching our kids how to go about pretending and even occasionally engage in this play with them?

In an article posted in Psychology Today on line, Dr. Scott Barry Kaufman writes, “The research reviewed by Berk, Mann & Ogan, (2006) and Hirsh-Pasek, Golinkoff, Berk, & Singer (2009) suggest that make-believe games are forerunners of the important capacity for forms of self-regulation including reduced aggression, delay of gratification, civility, and empathy. When children use toys to introduce possible scenarios or friends, the representation of multiple perspectives occurs naturally. Taking on different roles allows children the unique opportunity to learn social skills such as communication, problem solving, and empathy (Hughes, 1999).”

When our group of 5 and 6 year olds act out the Three Little Pigs,  the social and life skills practice is evident. After reading The Three Little Pigs, the acting out came naturally to our 4 boys. They first chose roles and built their own homes. They chose to play this game repeatedly even during free playtime. Once they practiced a few times, they were completely independent in their negotiating roles, setting up the environment, and cueing each other. The play changed over time as the boys began to build homes together to make them more elaborate. They created different endings as they problem solved various ways to keep the wolf out of the house.

So, let’s examine how this one play scenario can help kids develop self-regulation as described by Dr. Kaufman.

agressive kid

Reduced aggression – What happens when a child doesn’t get the role he wants? Does he lash out? Refuse to play? Some of our 3 little piggy players did just that at the beginning of this activity. It took lots of explanation, opportunities to sit out and watch initially, and practice for them to learn that they may not get the role they thought they wanted but they could have fun all the same.

Delayed gratification – Once kids learned that we would act out the story over and over and over again, they relaxed about the roles and houses they were assigned. They knew that at some point, they would be able to have the role they wanted.

Civility – Learning to enjoy and even compliment each other is a really hard but important lesson for children, young and old. As kids acted out their parts in their own unique ways, rather than saying, “No, that’s not how you do it”, they learned to appreciate the uniqueness of their peers and support one another in their differences.

Empathy – The actual story of the three little pigs exemplifies empathy. When one piggy’s house is blown down, the others don’t laugh, they say, “Come to my house. I’ll help you stay safe!” Sometimes the kids even showed empathy toward the wolf and ended up inviting him in for cookies if he promised not to eat them!

Understanding multiple perspectives – Why does the wolf want to blow the houses down? Why does he talk in a mean way to the pigs? Why are the pigs afraid? These questions can lead to some pretty sophisticated discussions about our preconceived ideas about people and how we can listen to one another and try to understand.


Communication – Initially, kids wanted to jump into the story. Over time they learn that some talking time is necessary to plan. They become much better and more efficient and almost formulaic about planning. For example, the kids now say, “Who wants to be the wolf? Who wants to be the first pig?” Next they ask, “Where will you build your house? Mine will be here.” etc.

Problem Solving – This one is obvious but I must add that in the beginning, kids are so anxious about making sure things so “their way” that very little problem solving occurs without adult intervention. We’ve written about this before but the value of acting out the same story over and over again is that anxiety goes down and problem solving emerges.

Enjoy make believe play. It’s fun to join in as an adult to throw the kids some unexpected changes and see how they manage. This is also a fun activity with finger or hand puppets. Please check out Dr. Scott Barry Kaufman’s article as it is refreshing and informative.

Image by: Will Sawney







breathe deeply

What’s So Hard About Breathing?

What could be simpler than breathing? We don’t have to think about it… it just happens even when we sleep. But guess what? Breathing to create a relaxation response may take some work and practice, especially for children. BUT it is well work the trouble and this is why:   Children who struggle with social challenges often live in an anxious state. When stressed, heart rates increase, blood is diverted away from the stomach to the muscles of the legs for flight, and stress hormones such as cortisol are released. This physiological response to stress is also known as the fight, flight or fight response.   How can we expect kids to remain seated in school, stay focused on a topic, respond to and play appropriately with peers, and learn when their nervous systems are working against them? We can teach them to breathe.   Deep breathing is so much more than relaxing. It can train the body to react differently to stressful situations. For example, when faced with frustration, anger, hurt, loneliness, fear, uncertainty and anxiety, breathing can help a child make wiser choices regarding how to respond in each circumstance.   However, it can be difficult to teach young children how to breathe. They often breathe quickly and shallowly as if in a race – who can breathe the loudest or fastest? They can’t see their breath and don’t have patience to slow down their breathing when their bodies are racing 90 miles per hour. In addition, many children who operate in this fight, flight or fright mode don’t possess the body awareness needed to understand what slowing and deepening their breath actually feels like.   We have been experimenting with ways to teach children the experience of inhaling and exhaling deeply while helping them notice and reflect on how this type of breathing affects their bodies and moods in the moment. We’ll be sharing thoughts and experiences using these strategies in upcoming blogs and would love to hear about your thoughts and experiences as well. In the meantime, just breathe…   photo by Amanda Hirsch

photo by David Lytle

Let’s Pretend…

Talking toys, ready-made projects, iPads, and electronic games are all super fun and enticing. However, they don’t help our kids develop communication, collaboration, critical thinking and creativity. These are the skills that will ensure life long learning and problem solving not only through school but throughout careers and family life as well. What will happen to the next generation of kids if they don’t learn these critical life skills?

In an effort to help 4 – 6 year olds develop these skills in our Social Adventures group we read books with simple themes such as “Good-night Gorilla” and “The Little Red Hen” and act out the stories in the gym. This has been quite a challenge for our little ones as they show difficulty negotiating roles, identifying props, figuring out how to use the space available to them and staying with the theme.

To help the kids grasp early negotiation skills, we provided each child with a ball or tactile play item and when another item looked more interesting to them, they asked a friend to trade. If a friend wanted to trade, he said, “Sure”. We taught the kids to say, “In a minute” if they didn’t want to trade and then encouraged the swap shortly after.

play doh sharing

photo by

Last week, we decided to play “Grocery Store” with the 4-5 year olds in our Social Adventures groups. It happened sort of organically when one child suggested the game and the others enthusiastically agreed. In discussing roles, the kids said we needed a “Scanner”, a “Delivery man”, a “Shopper”, and a “Grocery Worker” to stack the shelves.



The food (cardboard blocks) was delivered to the store via scooter board and the child stocking the shelves organized the shelves by color. He assigned exotic names to the food such as “spicy yogurt” getting more creative as the game proceeded. The shopper used a laundry basket as a grocery cart. The Scanner chose to stand inside the upright barrel to scan the food and then send it down the slide.

The kids began wanting to change roles. Sometimes a friend would say, “Sure” and other times they would say, “In a minute”. They then surprisingly switched roles in about a minute! Each child adapted his or her roles to suit their personalities. When one boy said the grocery bill was a whopping $9.00, the “customer” exclaimed, “WHAAAAT?” and then obligingly paid up.

You may think I am overreacting but I felt this session was no short of a miracle. The kids were engaged, negotiating, planning, problem solving, collaborating, and thoroughly enjoying themselves! So let’s put the electronics on the shelf and let the pretending begin.




Pepo and Lolo and the Red Apple

Title: Pepo and Lolo and the Red Apple

Author: Ana Martin Larranaga

Description: Two friends spot a delicious apple hanging from a tree. The problem is they can’t get it unless they work together.


  • Social Skills: teamwork and collaboration
  • Speech production: bilabial and alveolar sequences, /l/
  • Early Language: verbs, early utterances
  • Early narrative
  • Retelling

Why I like this book: Although a very simple story, I have found this book quite versatile for speech and language goals from very young to early elementary. There is also something special about the illustrations that kids (and adults) love:)

Ideas for this book:

  • A perfect simple story to act out. If in an individual session, read the story and pair with pretend play. If you have a toy pig and toy chick you’re all set. It’s a very simple sequence story so great for teaching pretend play sequences, incorporating dialogue, etc. If in a group/dyad, you can physically act out. There are 2 characters but also a couple ants that can be incorporated. Have kids come up with the props: what could be an apple, a tree, apple cores? Focus on the collaboration process, body language/facial expressions, etc.
  • Great for discussion around working together to solve problems. Pair with advocating and negotiating ideas from our Social Adventures App. Help break down this skill for children using social catch phrases like “I have an idea…”. Stress how they can’t complete the task without working together
  • Create thinking and speaking bubbles for the characters in the story. What are they thinking/feeling? Why?
  • Speech production: Great for motor planning kiddos for bilabial and alveolar sequence practice (i.e. pepo, lolo (I also change the chicks name to “bobo” if focusing on bilabials), apple, “no way” (when can’t reach the apple), “help me” (says animals),boom-boom, oh man (when apple falls) too-tall (can’t reach apple), one-two, big-pig, ti-ny, big apple,  you get the idea…)
  • /l/: lolo, apple
  • Given the simple nature of the story great for early language concepts: simple verbs, agent + action, etc.
  • Given the simple nature of the story, I use to introduce story grammar elements. There are simple characters, setting, problem (kickoff), internal response,events and resolution. Great when introducing the Story Grammar Marker through Mindwingconcepts
  • For earlier narrative skills a great story to have kids “be the teacher” and retell the story encouraging temporal markers (first, next, then, etc.). Pair with the Story Patch App or other story retelling apps.
  • Tie to curriculum: apples, planting seeds, composting, etc. Use sequencing cards to sequence these concepts, write sentences, etc.

Submitted by; Meghan G. Graham M.S. CCC-SLP

Please support books4all and order this book from  Thank you!

*Like this review and activities? Check out the Social Adventures App for more activities for children.
Ben Train

It’s Funny Where Ben’s Train Takes Him

Title: It’s Funny Where Ben’s Train Takes Him

Author:  Robert Burleigh

Illustrator:  Joanna Yardley

Age:  preschool, elementary school

Description:  Ben sets up an elaborate train excursion in his room that takes him up, around, through, and under trees, farmhouses, tunnels and towns.  It all starts with a drawing…

Goals/Concepts: Motor planning

  • Sequencing
  • Spatial terms
  • Imaginative play

Why I like this book:  This story is a delightful example of how a simple little drawing can be the start of an adventure as Ben’s imagination takes over using everything in his room from blocks to toy animals, bubbles and plants.  I also love the book because it’s about a boy and his trains!  What a great way to capture and expand on imaginary play.

Ideas for use:  

  • Ask the kids to put all the places Ben and his train went in the correct sequence and act it out.
  • Use the book to facilitate ideation – have kids look around the room and think about what common objects they can use to represent buildings, trees, etc.
  • Read the story to a small group of kids and have them decide on a theme for a collaborative story to do together.
  • Play, “I’m Going on a Picnic” clapping game but go on a train ride instead…”and I will pass a farmhouse, go through a tunnel”, etc.
  • Have kids draw a story starter picture of some kind of adventure and then exchange it with a friend to complete the picture and story to promote flexibility.

Submitted by:  Jill Perry, MHA, MS, OTR/L

Please support books4all and order this book from  Thank you!

*Like this review and activities? Check out the Social Adventures App for more activities for children.


little blue and little yellow

Book:   Little Blue and Little Yellow

Author:  Leo Lionni

Age:  preschool, elementary school

Description:  Best friends, little blue and little yellow, have lots of fun playing together.  When they hug each other, their color changes, which creates a problem.  This story about friends, family, and fun can be read and played out on many different levels.


  • Perspective taking
  • Social Skills
  • Non-verbal communication
  • Symbolic play
  • Why questions
  • Prediction
  • Visual perception/visual motor
  • Friendship
  • Sequencing
  • Motor planning

Why I like this book:   All of the characters in this book are represented by torn pieces of colored paper.  Yet, children are captivated by how they come alive in the book as they play together, spent time in their homes with family, cry, and rejoice.

Ideas for use:  

  • As you read the book through the first time, ask questions about how the “friends” and “papas and mamas” feel based on what the torn paper “characters” look like on the page.
  • Ask kids if they can predict what will happen as the story unfolds.
  • See if kids can interpret the actions of the characters on each page as the colors are shown playing hide-n-seek, ring around the rosie, jumping, and going through tunnels.
  • Have kids think of solutions to problems that arise in the story.
  • After reading the story, have the kids re-tell the story in the proper sequence.
  • Make an obstacle course to act out the story.
  • Have kids tear up pieces of construction paper and create their own stories with their own colors and actions.
  • Give each child one color and have the kids make a group mural of the entire story sequence.

Submitted by:  Jill Perry, MHA, MS, OTR/L

Please support books4all and order this book from  Thank you!

*Like this review and activities? Check out the Social Adventures App for more activities for children.


Piggies in the Pumpkin Patch

Book: Piggies in the Pumpkin Patch

Author: Mary Peterson and Jennifer Rofe

Age:  preschool, early elementary

Description:  Two young piggies explore their world by sneaking around the pumpkin patch while their mama sleeps.  Their adventures bring them under, through, over, across, between… (you get the picture), objects around the farm until they land safely in the pumpkin patch.


  • Sequencing
  • Motor planning
  • Sensory modulation
  • Motor exploration
  • Body awareness
  • Understanding positional words and concepts

Why I like this book:  Adorable illustrations make this simple story appealing for adults as well as children…AND it’s a fun book to act out.

Ideas for use:

  • Read the book through once and see how many piggy adventures the kids can remember.
  • Ask kids to retell the story using temporal markers such as first, then, next, etc.
  • Have kids use objects around the house, in the yard, on a playground or in a gym to set up an obstacle course that represents the actions of the piggies.
  • A nice map in the front of the book can be used to help the kids re-tell the story and help them set up the course.
  • Emphasize positional words such as under, over, between as kids move through their pumpkin patch obstacle course.
  • Use deep breathing exercises to lower arousal levels as the “piggies” fall asleep in the pumpkin patch at the end of the story.

Submitted by: Jill Perry, MHA, MS, OTR/L

Please support books4all and order this book from  Thank you!

*Like this review and activities? Check out the Social Adventures App for more activities for children.


Being Benny

Title: Being Benny

Author: Dan Wetzel

Age: preschool, elementary school

Description: Benny escapes the boredom he is experiencing on a rainy day by using his imagination…

• Imagination
• Ideation
• Problem solving
• Motor planning
• Creativity
• Categories

Why I like this book: Benny uses his imagination rather than “screens” to make his day more interesting. I like to use this book to talk about using the brain as a tool for eliminating boredom.

Ideas for use:
• After reading, talk with kids about what they would like to be. This can be broken down into categories. (e.g. vehicle, food, clothing, animal)
• After kids have talked about what they would like to be, see if each child can remember one thing a friend wanted to be.
• Discuss similarities in what kids in the group would choose to be or do to build friend files.
• Play charades acting out the pictures in the book.
• Find out what the kids do on rainy days and help them think about other ways to use their imaginations for fun.

Submitted by: Jill Perry, MHA, MS, OTR/L

Please support books4all and order this book from  Thank you!

*Like this review and activities? Check out the Social Adventures App for more activities for children.