Sessions of "make-believe," "pretend play," or "dramatic play" with your preschoolers help them express themselves, practice cooperation, and, more importantly, develop their early math and social skills. Through these kinds of games, young kids learn to invent characters and scenarios while developing their number sense and basic math concepts such as counting, sorting, and categorizing - an excellent preparation for their subsequent entry into formal school.
Playing "make-believe restaurant" is an excellent example of what you can do at home with your children. To start, encourage them to number the menu to facilitate customer orders, like when they ask, "What would you like to eat and drink?" And then incorporate sequence in the process: "I'll take a bruschetta as an appetizer, then dish number 2 with vegetables, and finally, dessert number 3, please." It's fun and highly educational. Invite your children to classify foods and beverages into different groups according to attributes or patterns.
Sequence the food prep, as well, and ask the kids to describe the recipe process, using words such as "first," "next," and "last" according to the chronology of operations. And of course, at the end of the meal, customers have to pay the bill (perhaps including a tip), an important step in learning math. Even if your preschoolers don't have a clear understanding of coin and paper money yet, they might be able to grasp the concept of paying in such business transactions. Ask questions such as "How much does it cost?" "How much money do you give?" and "How much should you give back as change?"
There are many other options to practice pretend play. The main goal is to boost number sense, sequencing, sorting, and categorizing steps and events. For example, you may set up a "make-believe zoo" using stuffed animals (and why not involve the family pets?). The principle is to classify the animals into sets, following patterns about the animals' species, colors, sizes, shapes, and much more: two-legged and four-legged animals, flying and flightless birds, six-legged insects, eight-legged arachnids, etc.
Picture: A young girl cooking with Dad (Wikimedia Commons)