Encouraging play skills through book themed activities

We are definitely a book family in this household. Between myself, J and my husband our house has a lot of books in every room. J has a ‘book nook’ upstairs and a book shelf downstairs, as well as books in his bag and the car! He reads everything from rhyming books to classic kids stories, to road maps and instruction manuals.

However, when it comes to play skills he tends to stick to his usual interested of small world and Star Wars. So I’ve been using his favourite stories to build on different play skills and activities to branch out more.

I thought I’d share some of our favourites:

The Very Hungry Caterpillar

I set up an ‘organised’ paint station. J does not like painting or ‘messy play’ so I knew I had to make this clean looking for him to join in. I had everything set up ready before calling him over, including wipes so he could wipe his hands straight away (reduces anxiety).

First we ‘printed’ our own caterpillars based on the book. We talked about light green and dark green. Mummy did a rested pattern, J explored putting them everywhere (with prompted to join them together as it’s the caterpillars body). We choose where to put the heads.

Once dry we added legs and facial features. We had to google how many legs caterpillars had which led to looking at some lovely photos.

We then made our own butterflies. I encouraged J to only paint on one half of the butterfly cut out. We then folded it over and rubbed our paintings. When we opened them our butterflies had a beautiful symmetrical pattern. J thought this was magical and had a huge smile.

I stuck the butterfly on the back of the paper plate and threaded string at the top. Now J has a spinning plate showing the caterpillar becoming a butterfly.

If your child is more arty and shows more interest then you can extend to create cacoon, add fruit and leaves (printing real fruit, cut out from magazines, paint their own etc) and practise letter forming to write key words from the book.

That’s Not My Dinosaur

I set up the dinosaurs ready for pretend play. J likes small world play and he will set things up into little scenes. I wanted to encourage him to talk about positional language

Eg: “Big dinosaur is on top”

“stegosaurus is at the bottom”

And comparison language

Eg: “T-Rex is higher than the stegosaurus”

I modelled the language using my own sentences and then asking prompting questions. You can also use PECS if your child uses visuals to communicate and encourage them to share positional or size symbols, or different types of dinosaurs.

Next we explored the tub of dinosaurs and was having fun sorting them. We sorted by size, big ‘type’ of dinosaur, who had wings and who didn’t etc. We counted the dinosaurs and discussed how no matter how we separated them the total number stayed the same.

Tiger Who Came to Tea

This has always been a favourite of mine and we’ve been reading it for years. We used it to help J with his makaton signing when he was younger. We used the symbols as well as the signs to retell the story (to find out more about makaton check out their website).

Recalling stories is an important skill as it develops attention and listening skills, concentration and language. As much as reading the same story everyday gets rather boring for us adults, it’s encouraging your child to begin these skills.

We pretend play with our tiger teddy. J isn’t a big ‘role player’ when it comes to day to day pretend play but he does find it funny that the tiger eats everything until there is nothing left in his play kitchen. I encourage him to talk about what food or drink to try next. It’s amazing how the food has changed over the years. He now uses real world food and brands we get on our weekly grocery shop. Today the tiger had ‘Pepsi Max cherry’ (Mummy’s current favourite drink). He even got a toy Star Wars character as it was a ‘happy meal’.

Lego Star Wars Encyclopaedia

J likes fact books. I am a believer that an form of reading is of benefit. This can be traditional story books, fact books, magazines/comics etc. This is a book showing the different types of Lego figures that have been made and facts all about them.

J and I read through together, talking about which movie/series they are from. The differences between them and which we liked best. We then played together with the lego. J was taking the people apart and making his own combinations. He was adding different accessories to them eg: some needed a map, weapons, helmets etc.

This was great for fine manipulative skills as his fingers had to control and move small pieces of Lego. It builds up strength in fingers and wrist which helps children with things with personal care (buttons, zips etc) and pencil control later on in education.

Usborne Book of Astronomy and Space

We often borrow books from the library as it gets expensive to keep up with J’s interests. J had been asking about our solar system so we borrowed a space book.

As well as reading the facts and looking st the stunning pictures, I use this space interest to bring in new experiences. Children need experiences in the world to draw upon for their play, language and create ideas from.

We use NASA’s twitter and YouTube channel regularly to watch real rockets and probes being launched. J gets to see the prep and countdown, how rockets launch and get up into space etc. I hear him practising this with his happyland rocket.

Dear Zoo

Dear Zoo is a classic children’s book. It’s a great combination of ‘surprise’ and suspense with the flaps but the repeated phrases make it a comforting book as children learn the words and rhythm.

We used to use J’s PECS book to talk about the animals and then built up to making the sentence “send it back” (find out more from the PECS website). Now we use the symbols for other learning activities. This time we were talking about size and comparison. Our main word was ‘biggest’. Each page the boxes get smaller so J had to find the biggest pot to put the animal in from the selection on the table. The pots got smaller as we went on but the aim was to work out which was biggest overall. Often J would pick up a big one and I’d help him to compare to others to see if its bigGEST.

You can also use this book for memory games and put animals in order of who came next and why we couldn’t keep them (great for language skills).

There’s no need to go out and buy lots of props and story sets. Often you can extend learning with bits and bobs around the house. My advice is to leave the books out afterwards so your child can reenact the play or explore the book on their own, then build it into their own games.

What books does your child enjoy? Are their own book themed activities that have worked really well for you? Let me know in the comments or come find us at Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

11 Comments Add yours

  1. Louise says:

    Love the tiger who came to tea one! Role play is so hard for our little ones to understand! Hope the tiger enjoyed the Pepsi max cherry 😝

    Liked by 1 person

    1. mummyest2014 says:

      Role play is always either ‘overly realistic’ or he just turns it into Star Wars 🙄 x


  2. Jen says:

    I love the idea of doing activities based on books, I can’t wait to do things like this with Jasper as he get older. I had also never noticed that the boxes get smaller in Dear Zoo! x

    Liked by 1 person

    1. mummyest2014 says:

      We learn something new everyday haha x


  3. Love this, some great ideas for game playing linked to these books x

    Liked by 1 person

    1. mummyest2014 says:

      Thanks. We’ve had lots of fun x


  4. Jade says:

    We love book play too. There are some brilliant ideas here. It’s good to think of different ways to use old ones too like you we used to used Dear Zoo for PECS commenting. I will have a go at using it to sort the animals by size etc. Thanks for the ideas x

    Liked by 1 person

    1. mummyest2014 says:

      Glad I can be helpful 🙂 we still use our PECS for various things so they are still helpful x

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Kat H says:

    I love everyone of these – You are so creative!! I am going to have to try to use some of these with Harry, hes a massive reader and super behind with his speech so hopfully these will help!! Thank you so much!


    1. mummyest2014 says:

      Aw that’s really kind of you, thank you. I found that using pictures from the book and doing activities such as retelling the story by putting key pictures in order helping J with some of his language. Using visual gave him a sort of prompt x


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