ASD Table time crafts- pretend play

Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn.

Benjamin Franklin


Trigger warning, this post might trigger some educational professionals. Just my personal opinion and experiences with the educational system here in our country. I know there are exceptional teachers out there and if you are one of them, this post will not trigger you, so thank you for being one of the good ones. You deserve a medal for that. Please keep up the good work, our future depends on that, our children need that.


In all the activities and teaching moments I had with my children, pretend play was not only the hardest thing to teach but also the most important of them all.

Pretend play helps children with language, problem solving, imagination and being creative. It helps teach children how to share with one another, take turns, and empathy.

Empathy is one of the most important subjects to me because, well, you all know…the world needs more of that. I know adults out there that still haven’t mastered the skill of empathy. Mostly the reasons behind that are because no one really ever taught them. There are a lot of generations out there (some from my generation) that were raised by televisions and now we have social media raising our young. Machines, apps, and pretend make believe colorful characters can not teach empathy. This is why pretend play and one on one human contact is so important for the world.

Pretend play also helps children learn self esteem by teaching them that they can be whatever they want. Leave it up to them, don’t push for them to be something they don’t want to be, push for them to learn what they have a passion for and what brings them happiness in life. Once we are born we all are given gifts and in turn we all have our purposes and parts to play.

There are all types of ways you can work in pretend play too, ways that help with cognitive thinking. An example of that would be building a playhouse together. When I was a kid at my Nana’s house, all my cousins and I would find weird junky things piled up in her back yard and design a playhouse with it. We would figure out how to make furniture for our home using pieces of wood or empty barrels with old blankets for table clothes. Towels became curtains, and old pots and pans Nana no longer wanted became our pretend cookware.

Instead of using playdoh we made our own with salt and flour or we made mud pies, which is even funner too me. I have always loved playing with the textures of dirt. Extra tip about dirt: there is something in dirt that helps with depression. Touching it with our hands and being out in the sun , working with life, helps with PTSD, anxiety and depression. This is why I am always encouraging others in my life to get involved with nature, respect it and enjoy all those beautiful things god has given us to make our lives happier.Everything has a purpose and reason behind it.

Back when we and our grandparents were young, it was okay to act like children.We were allowed to play, to roughhouse, to fall down and learn how to pick ourselves up and do it again (second time a little better though, so as not to fall again). So basically we were allowed to be children more, to run around outside getting dirty, and to come in tired after a long day of learning the natural way.

We were allowed to be as creative as we wanted to be. I am not seeing this type of creativeness being taught in some of our public schools anymore. They are taking away the inventive nature our children are starving for, meanwhile they keep asking for more and more money. What are they teaching our kids anyway?

Children with ASD (Autism spectrum disorders) have a harder time with pretend play because it involves a lot of social skills and language. I used a program from ABA to help teach my son how to pretend play and there were moments when I had to do a lot of hand over hand when we first started. Once he mastered that skill we had so much fun with pretend playing.When he was able to understand things better I registered him with park programs where he could practice these skills with other children. He in turn developed more language and confidence this way. Baby steps in the beginning, but what an outcome when it was accomplished.

All children with ASD have different levels and tolerance of what works with them. Only their mothers will have that deep connection to see how far they can push their babies to learn, and they should never be afraid to challenge them. These kids are smart, they just do things a different way.

The way the school district our kids were attending treated us as a family, was like they were trying to push us to believe there was no hope for our son, so why try. Just except that and do what they did. Which was as little as possible in my opinion. Their methods weren’t working with him so nothing was going to work in their eyes. Lot of ego trips going on in some of these educational districts.

One the cruelest things a speech therapist said once about my son to another teacher was “Isn’t there a room you can just stick him in?”. The speech therapist didn’t realize I was standing within ear shot when she said it. That same speech therapist would also say “Why bother, he doesn’t understand” when the classroom aide went to get my son to participate with the other kids during an art activity.

My son although non verbal at the time (he was 4) loved art activities at home. After we pulled him out of our neighborhood district (one if not the largest school district in the state of Arizona) and we home schooled him, he would win several state and local awards for his art.

We used PECS cards to help teach our son language before he could speak the words. I had to learn the Pecs system on my own because Washington Elementary school district here in Phoenix did not supply me with this information for my non-verbal son when he was registered with them in his early years. I learned from outside sources about this style of teaching non verbal children. I also had to pay out of pocket to learn about this program.

The public school had access to this system of teaching language through pictures but they never told my husband and I about it, nor supplied our son with a pecs communication book. I ended up making my son two pecs communication folders myself, one for home and one for school.

My son communicated with us at our home using Pecs cards but there were witnesses that  the teachers at my sons school were not using his communication folder with him. They just left it his backpack.

When he would get up or wander around not understanding what was going on which would cause melt downs they would just label my son as a problem, when all along he was just desperately trying to figure out how to communicate in our world.

The WESD  here in Maricopa county did as little as possible when it came to helping my husband and I get our son to reach his full potential in my opinion. Because of the stress they caused our family and the heartache of witnessing what they were doing to our son (there was even physical abuse that my daughter and I, plus the school psychologist witnessed with another student in that district), we had no choice but to pull our son out of that district. Last I heard, that school psychologist left that district.

Sometimes I think about those years ago when that speech therapist and our neighborhood school district gave up on my son and wonder what they all would  say now if they met him. He was always there wanting to learn, to be able to speak to another child and be included. They just could never see that in him. How sad is that?. What’s even sadder is the fact that there are many other children out there in the world in the same predicament right now at this moment. Children with all kinds of disabilities that are not being treated fairly because of them. Those special needs children are getting a lot of money to help them too, but these schools keep protesting and wanting more and more money…such greed.

I know, in my heart, that if I would have left my sons education up to the public school he was attending, IEP’s and all (just pieces of paper once the parents leave the classroom), my child would have never learned how to speak, little lone read and write as well. Just like the public school district my father attended never being able to ever teach him how to read and write either.

The educational system here in Arizona can give themselves good grades all they want with their own method and grading system they designed themselves, but the truth screams loud and clear that it is broken. So no matter how many banners they hang up outside their schools saying how well they are doing in their own rigged grading system, they are failing our children.

They failed my  father who I believe was dyslexic. In Arizona, at least when my father attended school here, as well as I, and then my own children, if you are dyslexic you have to get an outside diagnoses from a very expensive medical professional that most insurances do not cover. Poor families can not afford to get the outside help they need. Public schools continue getting away with this because they put these special needs under the label of it being a “Home issue” and they continue getting more and more money for their unions to basically, in my opinion to tell and teach our children how to memorize but not really have them get involved enough so that they actually learn. Pretend play is the best way to get children involved and in the process they learn so much.

Children are the most precious and valuable resources we have on this planet. They will be the ones that either make or break the future and that all depends on how we teach them.

Whew, there’s a rant for you…sorry about that. I am writing this post while the local news was on and they just did another story on red for ed here in our state. They got their money when they went on their strike the first time. My son was in high school at the time and the strike lasted so long we were afraid it was going to interfere with his senior year and graduation, and now they want to do it again. They want even more money.

Somewhere, right now, someone is sitting down with a child, and with just a stick and some dirt they are teaching that child how to read and write. Here in our country our educational system needs more and more money for what?…really, what do they need so much money for? There are super poor countries out there in the world that are teaching children how to be leaders, writers, artist, scientists, doctors and even teachers themselves and they are doing that with hardly any money at all. Those kids are a lot smarter for it and a whole lot more creative too.

Anyway, back to actually teaching children and that is not an area I can take credit for, it’s an area that comes naturally to children and that is just to play. Just let them be kids, let them play.

Some fun ways I worked in pretend play when my kids where little were:

Puppets, even little finger puppets. We act out social scenes like grocery shopping, visiting doctors offices, sharing, getting dressed, stranger danger, etc….

Doll houses- cleaning up, household rituals like waking up, brushing teeth and getting dressed.

Dress up- a huge box was filled with all kinds of fun clothes and hats I bought at second hand shops. I even bought customers and made some of their favorite characters. Dress up play also helps with motor skills and helps teach appropriate clothes to wear for different seasons. Some children on the spectrum have a difficult time switching our clothes during different seasons, wanting to wear bathing suits all year long or warm clothes when it is too hot.

Play animals- this was always one of our favorite pretend toys to play with. We would set up little farms and have so much fun playing outside in the dirt and gardens with our little plastic animals.


I also would make a lot of my toys myself to create stories and social situations with. This was necessary since the toys available in the stores were becoming more and more about electronics where children just pushed buttons and the toys entertained them.


Have your children help design homes and paint them the colors they want.


Take your home made toys outside and play around creeks, in the grass, under trees. Use those items in nature as part of your pretend play moments. Small pebbles in streams can become a math lesson(sensory play in water), climbing over large logs can get some movement in (gross motor), picking up leaves can help teach shapes and colors in their designs (also great for fine motor).


Sometimes we would have Play mobile pirate ships in our pool with all kinds of Play mobile toys with all their tiny details. We had lots of pirate battles out in that pool. I would combine pretend play with academics by having the pirates ask questions while in the pool. I covered flash cards I made by hand with clear packing tape to water proof them. Every moment I had with my son I turned into a teaching moment, but he was having so much fun he did not know when something was also a lesson to learn how to speak. I don’t know if they are still making these Playmobile toys.

There seems to be less and less play toys out in the stores now days. To correct that, you can always make your own. I can not stress enough how important this is. Every day I see more and more children staring at a little screen. Those screens come with handles now to make it more convenient for small infant hands and toddler hands to hold onto. Have you sat through some of these movies coming out now after 2015, they are teaching our youngest generation to think a certain way. I guarantee you that is happening and it if this continues what may seem innocent enough now will be a big problem when these babies are all grown up in the future and they are waiting for the screens to tell them what to do next.


Another fun thing to do for pretend play is search out vintage toys from the past, like Fisherprice little people. Buy giant sheets of poster board and draw out backdrops of scenes and characters for fun stories to keep things different and entertaining with your little people toys.


Then there are boxes. So much you can do with a plain box. You can make a play stove with a small box and use it as a teaching tool on safety skills in the kitchen. Use play doh for creating food and pretend to make dinner together and the foods you like to eat.

Remember, it doesn’t take a lot of money to pretend play, even a box of over sized shirts can be cut up and painted on to make costumes with.

Pretend play opens those doors to so many ways to reach your children and to get them involved all while they learn about life, speech, and just having fun. Happy pretend playing everyone and remember to include everyone, all levels and all ages. Invite the neighbor kids over or other family members with kids…the more to play with the better the opportunities to learn from each other.

If you come from a dysfunctional family and have gone No Contact ( seems to be an epidemic with the Nirus (narcissistic virus) then research areas in your state where there are places where your ASD children can have opportunities to play with others. The libraries have classes and reading play times, park programs, museums, and even play centers in some cities. Children need to be around other children, it is part of how they learn and grow and become verbal. Children need to be loved and have good mentors to teach them about kindness. When children interact with other people they grow up gaining past generation’s knowledge. Best of all, is that this in turn teaches children how to have empathy for one another. Pass it on, play with your babies and turn off those screens. The future will thank you for it.



9 Comments Add yours

  1. Jane Fritz says:

    An important post, Little Red House. Thank you. I have forwarded it to my niece in Georgia so she’ll at least know she’s not alone. Another blogger in northern England writes of similar frustrations with the school system there.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you Jane, sometimes we wonder if anyone else is dealing with this. Always good to know that we are all in the same boat when it comes to our children and their needs. Lets hope more people start turning things around out there in the world. It starts with our children. It always has, generation after generation.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Outstanding blog. I spent hours playing with my own children and my grand children and teaching imagination was a key component. I think it is perhaps one of the most critical skills for children to learn and yet the art of imagination and play seems to be lessening with every decade. Again – just a fantastic topic and blog.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much and thank you for teaching your children this too. Imagination and play are so important.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Great post, full of wonderful information!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. The Green Crunchy Mother says:

    What a beautiful post you have written. Imagination, creativity, and playing are so important. I love the pictures ❤

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, and I know you understand how important it is to let our children play. You’re a good mommy. Have a Happy Valentine’s Day and weekend. It will be here before we know it.


      1. The Green Crunchy Mother says:

        Thank you so much for the kind words. You are a wonderful mommy yourself <3. Happy Valentine's Day to you and your family 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

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