Blogger Sarah Bean Thompson

Homemade Interactive Play Stations to Invite Imaginary Play

Pretend bakery set with cardboard store front, felt and pom-pom pies and pool noodle cupcakes.

I recently attended a training given by two of my amazing co-workers about their fantastic homemade interaction play stations. Once I saw what Emily and Kelly had created, I was inspired to try it out at my branch and I knew I had to share their creativity with others!

Emily & Kelly: We noticed in our interactions with children in both our storytimes and outreach visits that when we asked an open-ended question that required them to use their imaginations children would either not answer or respond with “I don’t know.” So we started looking for ways to introduce pretend play to spark their imaginations. We also wanted to demonstrate to parents the importance of pretend play and the ability to provide the same types of learning opportunities at home without having to invest in expensive toys.

plastic pool filled with pool noodle carrots and crinkle grass, gardening supplies surround pool

At the beginning of each month we do a themed storytime to introduce our play station. For the rest of the month we provide both fiction and non-fiction books that go along with the play station theme. As for set up, we display signs that promote our Racing to Read Early Literacy program and describe how each type of play is important in building a foundation for reading readiness. These signs help parents know what the purpose of each station is and it encourages them to play with their kids instead of standing back. We don’t usually provide much instruction on how to use the play station unless the kids are hesitant. This happened more when we first started introducing pretend play in our storytimes so we would jump in and start pretending with them. Now our children are more confident in their pretend play and we have seen their ability to use their imaginations improve so much which was our original goal.

Pretend play chicken coop. Cardboard boxes filled with paper chickens and plastic eggs.

All of them are popular! Everytime we introduce a new station there is a lot of excitement. Just when we think we have introduced the most popular the next station is just as well liked. To ensure that kids remain excited we only leave each station out for about a month. We are able to build anticipation about what pretend play station will be next and this also helps keep families coming back to storytime.

Pretend play Post Office with cardboard mailbox and post office mailers

Most of our play stations are made with a trifold board that is easy to fold up and store. We also use large, heavy-duty ziploc bags (purchased at dollar stores) to keep all the pieces of each station together. The larger pieces such as the oven, pizza oven, mailbox, and snowman do take up more room but they are such an integral part of our storytimes that they are worth the storage space.


Pretend play ice cream shop with tri-fold store front, ice cream menu, scoops, ice cream buckets and cones.


When you are working with a tight budget, as we do in the library, you learn how to think creatively. Try going to the store with a partner so you can brainstorm how to use different items. The seasonal aisles are a great place to get inspiration. A lot of our pretend play ideas begin when we are in the store and see something that sparks our imagination for a new play station theme. Pinterest is also a great starting point for ideas. For instance, we got the idea for a gardening theme and then headed to the store to see what we could find. We found Easter eggs in the shape of carrots and fun themed baskets, flower pots, silk flowers, and kid-sized gardening tools. We also shop for bargains at the end of each season or holiday. An example is our after Easter shopping. We stock up on Easter grass at $.05 and $.10 a bag and Easter eggs for $.20 a bag. The key to shopping at dollar stores is to constantly be thinking outside the box. The challenge of finding creative uses for everyday items is half the fun in building our play stations.  

Deconstructed play hamburger. Hamburger buns are made from Laughing Cow cheese containers and covered in brown felt. Condiments are made of felt.

I hope Emily and Kelly have inspired you to try more homemade imaginary play at your library.

Emily and Kelly are Youth Services Associates with Springfield-Greene County Library in Springfield, Missouri.


This post addresses the following ALSC Core Competencies: I. Commitment to Client Group and III. Programming Skills.


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