Excerpt: 'The Secret of Play'

Certain toys are ideal for pretending with a friend. With puppet stages and puppets, kids have to work together on their productions or take turns if one child is the audience while the other one performs. Cash-registers and shopping carts can be props in a pretend store; wooden or plastic food and paper "menus" are great for playing restaurant, and camping kits mean they can imagine themselves sleeping out under the stars. Crumple some orange and yellow tissue paper around a flashlight, and they can sit around their campfire for hours!

Homemade Fun
Preschool-age kids are just beginning to understand the benefits of caring for living things like plants and flowers. Give your a child a watering can of her own and encourage her to help you plant seeds or pull weeds in the garden. Or, if space is an issue, try sprouting beans in a pie pan or suspend an avocado pit in a jar of water and watch it take root. Praising her efforts and enthusiasm will help reinforce how much you value her ability to help a living thing grow and flourish.

Healthy play: Bedtime battles

What you'll notice
Your once early-to-bed child now puts up a fight at the mere mention of pajamas. Sometimes she runs off and hides or starts crying because she wants to play. Your 5-minute warning gets whined into 10. And when you finally pick her up, she's a lot faster, stronger, and squirmier than your patience and energy can handle. The same unpleasant dance may occur at naptime—even if she's rubbing her eyes and looks like she's about to nod off.

Why it's happening
With a big, wide world to explore, the last thing your child wants to do is waste time sleeping. Bursting with curiosity, engrossed in a make-believe world, or suddenly fascinated by the lint under the couch, she doesn't want to hear that it's time for bed. And though she has a better sense of time and space, tomorrow seems like an eternity.

Also, because she's at a stage where she may be experiencing fears and phobias, "lights-out" may be an unwelcome invitation for her to conjure up scary visitors. Sometime this year your child may drop her nap, because she requires less sleep than she did during her baby and toddler years.

How to have fun with it
Borrow a technique from preschool teachers and make a card with your child's name and picture on it. Then place this label on top of whatever she is playing with before bed or naptime. This way she can rest assured that no one will be having fun with her toys while she's catching her forty winks and that she can pick up right where she left off when she wakes up.

Refusing to nap may be a sign that she is ready to drop this midday siesta. Still, insist that she have some quiet time on her bed—not necessarily to sleep, but to read or play quietly. Often just being on her bed will make her drowsy or provide a much-needed break and relax her body. Even when the nap is gone for good, this quiet hour should remain a routine during which she learns to entertain herself and recharge her batteries.

Television or a movie should not be part of a child's bedtime ritual. A better choice is soft, gentle music. And keep roughhousing or active play to a minimum at least an hour before bedtime. Create routines.

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