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Follow Their Lead

Young girl holding a teddy bear giggling with a woman.
Young girl holding a teddy bear giggling with a woman.

This post is, like most, inspired by my daughter, her friends, and their summer activity choices and interests. Usually, it’s water play and anything outside, which is why I talk about a lot of sensory play. The last few weeks, her play has somewhat shifted.

My daughter has found a new interest in her play kitchen since I cleaned up and rearranged her play area. It’s fascinating to watch and notice how her play changes and becomes more advanced. She used to just bring us food, then she started making picnics for her stuffed animals, and now she plays drive-thru, specifically, Starbucks. She discovered that I could turn her play kitchen around, and it feels more like a drive-thru with her little window. She loves to have me turn the whole thing around and then take turns being the worker and the person coming through. My other daughter taught her how to order a “caramel macchiato with light ice and cold foam upside down” and it’s honestly quite impressive. Last night, she asked her, “Do you want an extra shot?” to which my almost three-year-old replied, “Yeah, it’s been a long day.” I wonder where she picked that up from…

Because of my kiddos' newfound love for their play kitchen and coffee shop, I’ve been considering how I can deepen her play and sneak some new skills and learning into it, too.

The first part of it is honestly just playing and talking with her. I listen to her, I pay attention to what she says, I respond, question, and extend. When she asks what I want, I say something familiar, like a piece of toast. Then I extend it with something unfamiliar, like a crepe with compote. She might say okay, or what’s that? Then I tell her. I might explain how to make a crepe or a compote. Here she learns new vocab and learns about a new food.

Then it’s my turn to take her order. She says something, and now I’m going to give her some math concepts. I tell her it’s $7. She pretends to hand me money, I say, “do you want your change, it’s going to be $3.66.” I’m giving her some different numbers here that she might not hear in her daily life. I’m also giving her an introduction to money. Maybe I use some blocks for her ice cubes, and I put blocks into a container counting them out, maybe she joins me in counting. I ask her, “Do you want more or less ice cubes?” Again, some new number concepts. If she’s still interested, I’ll ask, “How many more?” or “How many should I take out?”

Next, I give her totally new concepts and ideas. I like to give her new ideas which help her to play alone. I can’t always play with her as much as she wants, plus, it’s great for kids to learn how to play by themselves and dive into their own imagination!

A young boy and a women sitting at a table together playing with army men figurines.
A young boy and a women sitting at a table together playing with army men figurines.

I might suggest she cleans off her table and sets it up for her stuffed animals and

pretends to be their waitress. I could give her a little notepad so she can walk up and take their order. This is a type of play that she could do by herself. The notepad can be used to sneak literacy in! I love to create on Google Docs so I might make a menu and an order form for her. (A sample is linked here!) She can work on writing her name and recognizing letters. I’ll point out that cake starts with “C” and so does coffee! She can also start writing her stuffed animals names, “B” for Bear, “P” for Piggy, “U” for Unicorn and so on.

Finally, I let her take her coffee and baking interest into the kitchen. We started making real vanilla steamers (steamed milk with vanilla syrup) and our own fresh baked goods to serve and eat! Again, with older kids, have them measure, count, write the recipe, and make price sheets for your creations!

These are just a few examples of how you can sneak learning into what your child is currently interested in. Let me know what your child is interested in and think of how you could sneak in a learning activity!


Meghan is a born and raised Montanan, mama to a rambunctious toddler and a bonus mom to two amazing preteens. She recently earned a Master's degree in Early Childhood Education. In addition to her position as an Early Childhood Specialist at the University of Montana, Meghan enjoys a variety of odd mix of jobs; nannying, creating and selling travel play dough kits, making essential oil blends for kids, providing families with child guidance on Facebook and Instagram, and now providing ideas and tips to child care providers in partnership with Raise Montana! Meghan is also a content contributor for 406 Families, a site dedicated to connecting families to local events and resources.

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