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The Power of Pretend

Open up a new world of make-believe for your child by setting up one of these fun imagination stations.

The supermarket
What you need: A basket, empty cereal boxes (stuff them with newspaper and tape the tops shut), and small cansWhat you do: Line up the cans and packages on a low bookshelf to create an instant grocery store, then tell your 2-year-old he's in charge of dinner. Once he's chosen what he wants, beep ¿ the boxes across an imaginary scanner, so your toddler can pack them into sacks.What your child learns: Recognizing symbols leads to early literacy skills, and getting to choose exactly what he wants for once boosts your 2-year-old's decision-making skills and self-confidence, says Doris Bergen, Ph.D., a professor of educational psychology at Miami University in Oxford, OH.

The pet shop
What you need: Stuffed animals
What you do: Pick the perfect pet by saying, I want an animal that roars ¿ or I want a brown pet, ¿ and have your child remove toys that don't qualify.
What your child learns: Classifying objects is a skill he'll use in preschool.

The post office
What you need: A few days' worth of junk mail and some shoeboxes
What you do: Put a shoebox by the door of each bedroom and have your toddler deliver mail to each family member. You can also have him address ¿ the envelopes with different-color crayons, then use the same colors to mark the boxes.
What your child learns: Pretending to be someone else is actually an important cognitive milestone. If he takes the crayon route, he'll be learning to match and identify colors.