Last week I was playing with a little boy in his basement playroom. In a house of three preschool boys, this was clearly the room to move in. It had several kid-sized vehicles lined up against the wall, and smaller trucks, helicopters, fire engines and cars ready for play.

I asked Mom, “Where are the people?” She replied that the little people were upstairs with other sets of toys. I suggested she bring some back downstairs!

Always have play people or animals available to join the pretend play. When you have people, you encourage dialogue and language skills are strengthened. Pick up a little person yourself and start up a conversation with one that your child is holding. Ask an open-ended question like, “I wonder where we should go?” and let your child take off with the direction of play. Remember to to be the producer not the director of your child’s play. You set up the beginning props and watch their imagination take over the theme of play. Follow their lead and they will gain more from pretend play.

Think about props that could be added to a play scheme that your child enjoys. If he likes to ride vehicles, add a cardboard box with a string attached so he can fill his car with gas from the pretend pump. No need to buy every toy–a cardboard box can represent many things. Invite him to make the gas pump with you and decorate it with markers, adding numbers on the outside.