Creativity in the early years includes pretend (symbolic) play. Pretend play offers boundless opportunities for language development, creative expression, and relational connections. While children are exceptional players, sometimes adults need help getting started.   This recipe for connection suggests a children’s book as a starting place to launch a pretend play session.

Creativity: Pretend: Pete’s a Pizza

Pete’s a Pizza by William Steig
Play-Doh (homemade salt play dough)
plastic pizza slicer
pizza box
chef hats

1. Read the story, Pete’s a Pizza by William Steig with your child. While & after reading, ask questions like:

Is Pete really a pizza?!
What is going on?
Do you think will happen next?
What do you think this book was about?
What did you like about the story?
What was your favorite part? Why?

2. Talk with your child about how Pete and his family are pretending. This story is silly! They are playing pretend. What are some of your favorite pretend games?”

3. Share pretend materials with your child. Look through them together, explore all of the pieces, see if your child can label all of the items.

Ask them what they think you can play with these materials? Is there anything they feel like pretending? Have fun exploring, making up stories, feel free to laugh and be as creative as you like. Ask questions like:

What should we pretend?

4. Experiment & Play together. Let your child lead the pretend play, going along with your child’s pretend stories. Participate with their story through your pretend actions, voices, and words. Feel free to let the story develop in any direction. You might ask questions like:

What will happen next?

What should I do?

Work together to play and even include siblings in pretend stories. Maybe try to taking it to the next level, by encouraging your child to come up with ideas outside of pizza. Or see if they how they can grow the idea, “what else can you pretend to do with the dough?” Recall the way that Pete’s dad pretended with different items for pizza toppings.

5. Keep it up…. Encourage your child to pull in some of the items around your home to include in pretending. Praise their creative efforts & ideas. Ask questions about the story and play along.

Remember Recipes for Connection:

– can be used in homes, schools, or therapy offices.
– promote engaged play between an adult and at least one child.
– can be adapted by teachers, administrators, parents, grandparents, counselors,
therapists to fit a variety of adult-child play partnerships.

Pretend Play supports cognitive development as children learn to use objects a symbols to represent something else as well as increases children’s understanding of cultures, their environments, and their experiences. 


Dr. Andrea Miller Emerson

Dr. Andrea Miller Emerson

Dr. Andrea Miller Emerson is an Assistant Professor of Early Childhood Education in the Division of Education and Leadership at Western Oregon University in Monmouth, Oregon. Andrea lives (and laughs frequently) with her husband, Kyle, and her cat, Zuzu. She brings diverse personal perspectives to early childhood education and care from her father’s Colombian heritage, her mother’s all-American culture from North Texas, her ongoing involvement with an Italian Immersion Program for pre-service teachers in Carpi, Italy, and her extensive international travel. To learn more about Dr. Emerson’s speaking engagements, or to invite her to speak, please click here.