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Author Archives: Wendy Daniels

Endulge In A Little Imagination

Between paying the bills, attending meetings, going grocery shopping and endlessly doing dishes and laundry, it’s easy to forget what is was like to be a child.  Children’s worlds are much bigger than ours; fairies and gnomes scuffle beneath their feet, hiding behind corners and underneath couches while dragons sleep beneath the forest floor.

It seems as though dramatic and pretend play has disappeared from kindergarten classes everywhere and is replaced with spelling tests and homework.  And of course we want our children to read and count, but don’t we want them to dream big and experience life as a child?  We need to give them as many opportunities to pretend and believe in magic as long as we can; childhood flies by too fast!

Princesses, Knights, Fairies having Tea Parties.  Doesn’t that sound lovely?

Book your child’s Royal Dress-up Tea Party today!  Face-painting included.



Spring Birthday Tea Parties

Spring seems to be creeping up slowly with all those Spring Birthdays around the corner.  If your daughter has never had an imaginative Tea Party or if she wants to experience the magic all over again, A Storybook Tea Party is the right choice.

I book only 2 parties on the weekends, 1 on Saturday and 1 on Sunday.  We have plenty of openings from March-June, so give me call and reserve your child’s special day.

If for some reason your child is sick on her special day, I will happily reschedule for a later date.

Party Packages

Please call Wendy 1-360-490-0777

The Prop Box: Setting the Stage for Meaningful Play

Dramatic play is an essential mode of learning for young children, and “prop boxes,” play materials grouped by theme, make this activity even more effective. Find out how you can use these educational tools to guide your students toward meaningful role-playing and creative exploration. Included: Ideas for prop box themes materials.

“Play is the most important medium for development and learning for young children, aged birth to eight years,” explains Ann Barbour, a professor of early childhood education at California State University, Los Angeles. “But for many reasons, children have fewer and fewer opportunities to play. So, it’s important that teachers consciously support children’s play by providing adequate time, space, and interesting materials, like those that can be collected and stored in a prop box.”

“Prop boxes” are groups of dramatic play materials that are organized around specific themes. Those themes range from simple subjects like the beach or the farm to the more complex bank, dentist, or science lab. The boxes often are placed in a dramatic play center to spark students’ imagination and promote role-playing and exploration.

“Prop boxes enable children to act out what they know, cement their concepts, practice skills in a meaningful context, and learn with and from other children who also are engaged with the materials,” explained Barbour, the co-author of Prop Box Play: 50 Themes to Inspire Dramatic Play. “If the materials in the box encourage children to adopt different roles (i.e., chef, server, customer, cashier), children not only have opportunities to try on different roles themselves but also to practice taking someone else’s perspective and responding appropriately.”


Because dramatic play is the prevailing form of play among three- to six-year-olds, prop boxes are especially appropriate for that age group. Depending on the theme, Barbour suggests that they also can be used to support units of study in the elementary grades. Most important is selecting materials that are relevant and suitable for the developmental levels of the students who use them. While a wash day or bedtime prop box would be ideal for younger children, the travel agency or pioneer box would be a better fit for older students.

“Preparing the environment is a powerful support for play as well as a powerful influence on children’s behavior,” Barbour told Education World. “It’s important to set aside enough time for children to get into their play. Meaningful socio-dramatic play requires at least a 30-minute block of time, because it takes time for children to choose and negotiate roles, select props, and select and enact dramatic play scenarios.”

According to Barbour, the key to great prop box play is choosing themes that students have had firsthand experience with. If they have been to a bakery, they will possess enough understanding of bakeries, for their age level, to play out what they know and to expand their understanding. Wonderful materials only generate wonderful learning experiences when the theme is relevant for the children.


As an example of a theme that works well in many settings, Barbour offers the television production studio. Children of all ages can pretend to be on television. Younger children might act out what they have seen, while older ones can be reporters, interviewers, advertisers, and more. Barbour believes that theme even makes television more interactive for children, and strengthens verbal skills. Items featured in a television production studio prop box are a clamp light, a dry-erase board, make-up brushes, post-it notes and name cards, products to advertise, a homemade movie camera, and a television carved from a cardboard box.

Barbour has the following advice for teachers who are new to using prop boxes in the classroom:

  • Choose a theme you know your students will find interesting, and begin collecting materials associated with that theme. Your attic, basement or closest — or your friends’ and relatives’ attics, basements and closets — are great places to find props. Thrift stores and garage sales are equally wonderful. Put the materials in a labeled box and add items to it as you stumble across them.
  • Include clothing because clothes help children “step into a role.” Including props that both boys and girls will find appealing also is important. Some themes, like the flower shop or gas station/garage, might be more attractive to one gender or the other. In that case, you’ll need to make a conscious effort to include materials that will appeal to the opposite gender as well.
  • Choose real items that can be used safely, rather than “toys.” For example, children can do and learn so much more with a real, but broken, telephone than with a toy telephone.
  • Include literacy materials in every prop box, so children can pretend to read and write, even if they’re not yet able to really do so, and can associate literacy/numeracy activities with meaningful contexts. A restaurant prop box can have menus, pads and pens for servers to take orders, a money box or cash register, and so on. There are literacy materials associated with every theme.
  • Set up a “store.” Store prop boxes work well because of the different roles associated with stores, the fact that children generally have had experiences shopping, and because it’s easy to include literacy materials. Specific store themes include grocery store, ice cream stand, shoe store, and post office.
  • Ask the children what they think should be included. You don’t have to do everything yourself! You can ask children what they’ll need to set up a shoe store. If they’ve visited a shoe store, they’ll know lots of items to include.
  • Let families know what you’re doing. They can be wonderful sources for materials. Businesses, too, often are generous in donating materials.


Brigitte Green-Churchwell of Sandusky, Ohio, appreciates the value of real, hands-on experiences that add relevancy to prop box play. In her preservice teaching, she introduced prop boxes to early childhood and elementary classes. Her favorite box, a flower shop, allowed preschool students to mimic a real flower shop they had explored during a field trip. The operators of the shop had permitted the students to do arrangements and get a firsthand look at what it was really like to work in that type of business. The students translated that experience into their dramatic play.

What Makes a Good Prop Box?

“Relevancy,” says Ann Barbour. A great prop box…
* contains real materials rather than toys, whenever possible.
* is inclusive of both genders and culturally sensitive.
* has enough materials to support three or more children in sustained play.
* offers open-ended literacy materials. (materials, such as play dough, that can be used for multiple purposes.)

Barbour added, “Just pans and plates are better than plastic food, because children can pretend to cook their own food — whatever their own family eats — rather than be limited by plastic fried eggs.”

Green-Churchwell, who is pursuing a masters in education, included ample “real” materials in her flower shop box: a mixed assortment of silk flowers, faux grass, brown paper bags torn up as “dirt,” gardening gloves, flower pots, tissue paper, plastic vases, seed packets, watering can, old hose, gardening tools, hat, cash register, telephone, ordering pad, pencil, price list, money, and a play car/truck as the delivery vehicle.

The preschoolers enjoyed the box so much they wanted to work with it every day. One of Green-Churchwell’s favorite moments occurred when one student approached her with a true dilemma — the shop had no name! The group then agreed that “The Flower Shop” was an appropriate name and set out to create a sign with paper, crayons, and markers. Problem solved!

“Another memorable moment at a different preschool was when a student declared himself the boss,” reported Green-Churchwell. “He was working diligently with the other students until he recognized that one student had been on the telephone way too long, ‘talking’ to his mom. The self-proclaimed leader came to me about the problem, and I asked him what he thought a boss might do to solve the problem. He went right over and told the other student, ‘You are tying up the phone line, and we can’t get orders. If you want to talk to your mom, go home, but we’ve got work to do. Please get off that phone now.'” The boss’s approach was effective — the boy got off the phone. Another problem solved!

“In kindergarten, we used various kinds of prop boxes to take a hands-on look at different careers,” Green-Churchwell recalled. “Some of the prop boxes included The Barber Shop and Beauty Salon, The Community, and The Restaurant. Our community box illustrated different people who work in a neighborhood, such as police, postal workers, garbage collectors, bakers, bankers, and more. The restaurant box explored various types of service in different eating establishments, fast food vs. sit down, for example.”

In second grade, Green-Churchwell used a simulation prop box to help students experience the voyage and conditions of the Pilgrims coming to America and struggling to build a new home. That box included garments, a journal, tools, and supplies the Pilgrims might have used. The simulation prop box provided students with an emotional and “real” connection with the Pilgrims and the trials they endured.

“I prefer the hands-on methods of learning,” said Green-Churchwell. “Prop boxes have served as a dynamic key to hands-on discovery learning for both me and my students, and my students love them because they are a learning form of play.”


  • The Prop Box Find out how prop boxes are used to help middle schoolers hone their social skills.
  • Prop Box Ideas From “astronaut” to “western,” this list of themes and materials offered by Child Play Family Daycare is a great starting place for early childhood teachers who want to create their own prop boxes.
  • Dramatic Area Activities Discover more ideas for prop box themes and materials to support them.

Article by Cara Bafile
Education World®
Copyright © 2004 Education World

Once Upon a Time…The Importance of Pretend Play

By: John Lee

“Imaginative play is a precursor of conceptual thought – in which possibilities are explored upon the inner ‘stage’ of a child’s imagination.” – Erik Erikson

To all the flash card fans and fact drillers out there, the statement I am about to make may shock you: For young children, developing imagination is an important way to gain knowledge.

You read correctly – and I’m not alone in this quest to elevate imaginative play to its rightful place alongside knowing ABCs or numbers or reading before the age of 3.

The Value of Pretend Play

Many experts agree on the lifetime value of developing imagination. Yale University child development psychologists Dorothy and Jerome Singer say, “A critical feature of adult life is our ability to create stories we tell ourselves about possible futures and ways of attaining our goals. Children need to get an early start in such inner storytelling and mental manipulation of various situations.”

Through play, children express the world inside them and order the world outside. Children’s minds are amazing when at work, especially those minds that don’t know the “right way to play.” Those children find paths to discovery and understanding, marching to the beat of their own drummers, and along the way they open the door to independence, self-confidence and unlimited potential.

Open-ended play encourages this highly individual experience and is fueled by imagination. Toys that leave room for a child’s input and creative imagination are the ones that they return to over and over again – they are captivating, enduring.

It’s important to start kids on the right road to imaginative play from their earliest months of infancy. The Singers point out recent research that shows children who are encouraged in imaginative play prove to be more creative a few years later, have a richer vocabulary, are less impulsive and aggressive and often become leaders with their playmates….More

The Importance of Pretend Play By Ellen Booth Church

The Importance of Pretend PlayYoung children learn by imagining and doing. Have you ever watched your child pick up a stone and pretend it is a zooming car, or hop a Lego across the table as if it were a person or a bunny? Your child is using an object to represent something else while giving it action and motion. But this pretend play is not as simple as it may seem. The process of pretending builds skills in many essential developmental areas.

Preschool and kindergarten classrooms usually have a well-equipped dramatic play area, and this is quite intentional. Research has shown that pretend play provides children with a microcosm for life that encourages them to take the skills they have learned in classroom lessons and apply them to meaningful life activities. It is believed that this process of application helps your child not only develop a skill, but learn how to use it in life.

Pretend Play Builds Social and Emotional Skills When your child engages in pretend (or dramatic) play, he is actively experimenting with the social and emotional roles of life. Through cooperative play, he learns how to take turns, share responsibility, and creatively problem-solve. When your child pretends to be different characters, he has the experience of “walking in someone else’s shoes,” which helps teach the important moral development skill of empathy. It is normal for young children to see the world from their own egocentric point of view, but through maturation and cooperative play, your child will begin to understand the feelings of others. Your child also builds self-esteem when he discovers he can be anything just by pretending!

In the early years, children are just beginning to understand the difference between fantasy and reality. Imaginative play and acting out both familiar characters (such as family members) and fictional ones helps children internalize this important distinction. For example, your child can grasp the difference between her real mommy and the mommy she sometimes pretends to be when playing house. She will then apply that experiential knowledge to other situations. Pretend Play Builds Language Skills Have you ever listened in as your child engages in imaginary play with his toys or friends? You will probably hear some words and phrases you never thought he knew! In fact, we often hear our own words reflected in the play of children. Kids can do a perfect imitation of mom, dad, and the teacher!

Pretend play helps your child understand the power of language. In addition, by pretend playing with others, he learns that words give him the means to reenact a story or organize play. This process helps your child to make the connection between spoken and written language — a skill that will later help him learn to read. Your child also builds vocabulary when she engages in pretend play. You and your child’s teachers can introduce theme-specific words. For example, if your child loves to play with her toy dinosaurs, she will quickly learn the very big words for their names if you point them out. Often children like to pretend to do the things that you do around the house. Consider providing magazines, books, paper, and pencils to her collection of dramatic play props at home. Your child will be using pre-reading and pre-writing skills to mimic real-life situations. For example, she can “read” to her dolls and stuffed toys, “write” letters, make lists, and even pretend to take telephone messages with a toy phone! Pretend Play Builds Thinking Skills Pretend play provides your child with a variety of problems to solve. Whether it’s two children wanting to play the same role or searching for the just right material to make a roof for the playhouse, your child calls upon important cognitive thinking skills that he will use in every aspect of his life, now and forever.

Does your child enjoy a bit of roughhousing? Great! Some researchers in early brain development believe that this sort of play helps develop the part of the brain (the frontal lobe) that regulates behavior. So instead of worrying that this type of activity will encourage your child to act out or become too aggressive, be assured that within a monitored situation, rough-house play can actually help your child learn the self-regulation skills needed to know how and when this type of play is appropriate. Pretend play also promotes abstract thinking. The ability to use a prop (such as a block) as a symbol for something else (such as a phone) is a high-level thinking skill. Eventually it will enable your child to recognize that numbers represent quantities of things, and that combinations of letters represent the words she speaks, hears, and reads. Nurture the Imagination.

Not enough pretend play at your house? Consider creating a prop box or corner filled with objects to spark your preschooler’s fantasy world. You might include: * Large plastic crates, cardboard blocks, or a large, empty box for creating a “home” * Old clothes, shoes, backpacks, hats * Old telephones, phone books, magazines * Cooking utensils, dishes, plastic food containers, table napkins, silk flowers * Stuffed animals and dolls of all sizes * Fabric pieces, blankets, or old sheets for making costumes or a fort * Theme-appropriate materials such as postcards, used plane tickets, foreign coins, and photos for a pretend vacation trip * Writing materials for taking phone messages, leaving notes, and making shopping list About the Author Ellen Booth Church is a former professor of early childhood education, an education consultant and author.

The Bremerton Patriot: News Story, “Tea for Two”

Four-year-old Chloe Foster (left), in a Cinderella dress, and Adele Daniels, dressed as Belle, play with the dollhouse at Storybook Tea & Boutique, which opened last month in Manette.  - Rachel Brant/staff photo

Storybook Tea serves up tea and playtime for children ages 3-10.

Wendy Daniels hosted a tea party for her daughter’s fourth birthday.

Now, the mother of two hosts tea parties for a living.

Daniels opened Storybook Tea & Boutique in Manette in early December and little girls and boys continue to stop in for a spot of tea and cookies.

“Since the beginning of January we’ve been doing pretty good,” she said.

While Daniels’ 4-year-old daughter, Adele, has always enjoyed tea parties, it wasn’t until Daniels put together a party for Adele and her mother-in-law that she realized how meaningful tea parties can be.

“I knew it was special, but I didn’t realize how special,” Daniels said with tears welling in her eyes. “It’s such a bonding experience.”

After that, Daniels knew she had to open a Victorian tea and playroom.

Storybook Tea & Boutique offers tea parties for children throughout the week, complete with a wide variety of teas and snacks.

“Fruit teas are really popular with the kids,” Daniels said.

Children also use real china during the tea parties.

“We use real china for the kids so they feel special,” Daniels said.

“Imagine with Me” tea parties are on Sundays and children can bring a special friend, like a parent or grandparent, to take part in the get-together.

Children also can play with porcelain dolls, dollhouses, a puppet theater and wooden castles. Children can even dress up in costumes while they play at Storybook Tea & Boutique.

“They get to choose whatever they want to wear,” Daniels said. “We like to leave it open.”

Storybook Tea & Boutique also offers story times and will host birthday parties for children. Daniels said birthday parties should be booked at least three months in advance.

“(Parents) just bring in the cake and whatever else,” Daniels said. “I think with birthday parties people want something more special for them.”

While the real china and porcelain dolls are breakable, Daniels said the children are free to play with whatever they like at Storybook Tea & Boutique.

“It’s all about the kids,” Daniels said. “We keep the restrictions down.”

Daniels said many children walk into the Manette shop “completely wide-eyed” and ready to play.

“It’s just like coming into a dream for them,” she said. “They come in and they immediately start playing.”

While Storybook Tea & Boutique seems like it’s geared toward girls, Daniels said boys love the shop too. She said a lot of boys love playing with the large Victorian dollhouse in the playroom.

“I know it’s really girly, but the boys don’t mind it,” she said. “We just want the kids to have a good time.”

Storybook Tea & Boutique also sells the products used inside the small business. Daniels sells puzzles, toys, tea sets, machine washable costumes and Melissa & Doug wooden toys.

“We keep everything really affordable because we want them to come back,” she said.

Daniels said tea parties and parties in general can be costly, so Storybook Tea & Boutique is a great option for parents because it is affordable and parents don’t have to clean up a thing.

“Parents like it because they can kind of relax and chat with one another,” she said.

Daniels said she knows it was a risk to open a small business, but she’s happy because parents and children can benefit from a tea party.

“It was a risk, obviously, but I believe in my heart it’s what people need,” she said.