Pretend Play: Not Just For Preschoolers

Vet Pretend Play Free Printable

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The Engineer’s best friend recently had a birthday.  Her mom and I discussed gift ideas and we settled on a topic: veterinarian.  Now, to understand why this was a big deal, you have to understand E a little bit.  E is gifted.  I’m still trying to convince her mom of that, but we both agree that E is exceptionally bright, incredibly imaginative, and very advanced for her age.  She loves creating worlds and stories for herself, her family, and her stuffed animals.

She’s hugely interested in animals.  We joke that she’ll be a veterinarian or biology researcher who spends her days hacking through jungles and studying critters.  The other day we were at a science museum, and the Princess and I were inspecting the fish tanks.  The Princess pointed out a fabulous, extreme looking fish, and we guessed what its name was – I thought maybe a zebra fish.  E walked up and took a quick look, and then said “no, that’s a lion fish.  Look at the fins.”  And she was right!  I was so impressed by her knowledge.

As I worked on putting her gift together, it hit me: pretend play is an awesome way to learn.  I started going through the different concepts that she could practise with her kit, and I realized that she was able to do practically everything during pretend play that she could learn from a workbook.   The “OPEN” sign reverses to show a “CLOSED” sign, complete with a dry-erase clock that she can practice telling time on.  The prescription pads promote handwriting, reading, and numbers.  The bill pad requires handwriting and math.   The open/closed sign helps the kids practice time.  The patient information sheet (there are two kinds: pre-reading, and reading) require handwriting, telephone and address practice, and biology: what animal is this?  What afflictions and symptoms does it have?  You have to know the animal to describe it, after all.

In general, people think that pretend play is the purview of preschoolers: little ones who play house, kitchen, or family.  And that’s true – preschoolers excel at pretend play.  But even older kids can have a lot of fun doing pretend play.  The key is “real.”  The more real the props are, the more fun it is to pretend.  Those fake little toys are fun, but even little kids know the difference between a real, beeping thermometer, and a fake toy thermometer.  Which one do you think they prefer?  Real, of course!

From a more sober note, pretend play is highly important for the asynchronous child.  Researchers think that pretend play is important for learning self-regulation, delayed gratification, divergent learning, empathy, and a host of other positive side effects.

“Systematic research has increasingly demonstrated a series of clear benefits of children’s engagement in pretend games from the ages of about two and one half through ages six or seven. Actual studies have demonstrated cognitive benefits such as increases in language usage including subjunctives, future tenses, and  adjectives.”

Scott Barry Kaufman Ph.D.

So, with all that weighty evidence suggesting that pretend play is critical to our kids’ development, let me list what’s in our veterinarian kit.

  • The Cone of Shame (laminated pouch, cut into a circle and velcro on the ends)
  • Tool kit – stethoscope, fake syringes, tweezers
  • Real thermometer
  • Medication containers (cleaned and beads added for meds)
  • Bandages – I took elastic bandages, cut them into small sections, and stitched velcro on
  • Bandaids – be aware that some brands are excruciatingly difficult to remove from plush fur
  • Splints – large popsicle sticks
  • Various gauze pads and sticky tapes
  • Latex gloves
  • “Shampoo” and “Medicated Spray” bottles (travel sized, filled with paper shreds)
  • Leash and collar – small-sized
  • Boo-boo buddies – the small child-sized ones designed to freeze
  • Q-tips, cotton balls, and little wipes
  • Plastic test tubes
  • Lab coat
  • Animal x-rays
  • Paperwork and signs from the free printable

They have a blast!  We set up a vet clinic, complete with exam table and chairs for the patients.  They set up the signs and equipment and take care of their patients.  Every so often the Engineer will ask me how to spell a word as he fills out the paperwork.  It’s play…and it’s learning.  It’s fun.


Note: the majority of our supplies came from the dollar store.  The lab coats and x-rays, from Amazon.  We already had the doctor kit, but if we were just starting out, I would purchase the real deal and hit up the medical supply store for the rest.   These links will take you to Amazon to see the products we purchased for our kit.




  1. Oh my word. You are the best gift maker ever! *I* want to play vets with that kit! Your post reminded me how my daughter went through a phase of putting all her stuffed toys in ‘casts’ made of toilet paper (excellent for the purpose, in case you ever need one, btw). We still come across the occasional teddy with his leg in plaster. Our cat is getting castrated next month; I’m v tempted to make one of your cute cones to help my son process it. 11 is not too old for pretend play, either. ?


    • I love the toilet paper idea! Very realistic – that my kids love realistic. Our dog is currently wearing the cone of shame, so I was inspired, of sorts 🙂 I was hoping that a pretend version would stop the 2-year-old from trying to yank it off the dog, but nope, didn’t work.


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