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It’s frequently said that play is the work of the child. Some attribute the quote to Maria Montessori, others to Fred Rogers. No matter who said it first, most educators believe that play is the best way for children to develop language, motor, and social skills. That’s why I did a story time all about imaginative play, with two wonderful picture books by Antoinette Portis.

First we read Not a Box, in which a very creative bunny uses a cardboard box to represent a variety of settings. The story’s delightfully simple structure has an unseen adult asking bunny what she is doing with the box. Bunny always replies that it is not a box; the pictures illustrate how the box can be anything with a little imagination.

The story’s structure invites the children to participate. When the bunny tells the adult that the box is not a box, I asked my audience, “Well, what is it?” They eagerly shouted out their answers. After reading, we looked at the pictures again, and discussed all the things a box can be. Since a box can be a boat, we sang “Row, Row, Row Your Boat.”

Any time I sing “Row, Row, Row Your Boat,” I explain that the sticks you use to row are called oars. This provides an excellent transition to Portis’ follow-up book, Not a Stick. This time a piglet must explain to an adult that this is not a stick: it’s a fishing pole, a sword, a band leader’s baton, and so much more.

At the end of story time, we simply acted out the scenarios we saw in the books. We sailed a pirate ship, fought dragons, and went to the moon in a rocket ship. As we did so, the children developed vocabulary and storytelling skills that will help them become good readers. We also had a great deal of fun that did not cost us a cent. Imagination is free, but its benefits are priceless.

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