Frugal Role-Play with Preschoolers | Imperfect Homemaker

Frugal Role-Play with Preschoolers

Guest post from Imperfect Homemaker contributor, Andrea.

Frugal Role Play jpg
I don’t know about your kids, but my kids absolutely love to play dress-up.  We have more toy bins dedicated to dress-up and role playing than any other type of toy.  When I walk into my kids’ room, the floor is nearly always strewn with hats, scarves, coats, dresses, and accessories.  My kids may love dressing up, but my wallet doesn’t like the cost of buying dress-up outfits at the toy store.  I always get sticker shock, and then am disappointed in the quality of the items.  So we have found other ways to feed their role-playing habits.

I was especially inspired to make my own dress-up items after visiting the children’s museum in Fayetteville, NC on a recent trip.  The kids move from room to room and get to play farmer, supermarket, ambulance, ER, dentist, post office, banker, army man, TV weather forecaster, and more.  Most of the items were “real” items from that profession, and my kids had a blast.  They were willing to forfeit lunch in order to stay and play longer!

Here are some ideas for frugal role-play and dress-up:

Use “real” clothing that is larger in size.  When we get hand-me-downs, I throw some of the scarves, hats, frilly skirts, and dressy shoes into the dress-up bin.  The kids love it.  They are creative and turn scarves into ropes when they are braving a hurricane from the safety of the bunk-bed.  Purses become shopping bags when they “walk” to the store with their doggies.  They love playing with “real” items.

Save household and kitchen items.  When we empty an egg carton I give it to the kids to play with.  After a few days it has usually been stepped on and smooshed a hundred times, so we toss it out.  There will always be another one coming!  I rinse out vitamin bottles and save Band-Aid boxes for doctor play.  We have a plastic Starbucks coffee cup and old measuring cups for our “kitchen”.  Dead cell phones go in the toy drawer, and all of my kids love to walk around talking on a “real” phone.  (My husband wears out his phones quickly!)  When I am ready to pass on a scarf or necklace, I usually take it to the dress-up box instead of Good Will.




-Make your own.  At the children’s museum, in the play Post Office, my kids loved sorting mail and handing out packages.  So I saved envelopes from the mail for about a week, laminated them, taped up a couple of small boxes, and turned an old wipes box into a mail box.  Put on a blue shirt from Daddy’s closet, and voilà!  Instant Post Office.  We play with it for a few days and then pack it away for a few days to keep things new and exciting.

Post Office Role Play

Post Office Role Play

Post Office Role Play


An old box can become anything you can imagine.  My kids love to pretend it’s a boat.  We usually keep the boxes from our diaper shipment around the house for a few days.  Turn the box upside down and glue on some red construction paper circles for a stove.  Cut a hole for a mailbox.  Make a baby cradle.  The possibilities are endless (and free!).  Two liter bottles become a jet pack.  A towel and clothespin becomes a super hero cape.  An empty toilet paper tube or paper towel tube can become binoculars or a pirate spyglass.  We cut necktie shapes out of fabric scraps and added a ribbon for instant dress-up.

N is for Necktie


Play store by setting out some toys on the coffee table.  Print out some paper money and give them a purse.  One child gets to be the shop keeper and one child can be the customer.  We use my daughter's baby stroller to be the shopping cart.  I love spending $5 and getting $20 in change!  (We will work on math skills in Kindergarten this year 🙂

My daughter loves to play Mommy, Little Girl, and Baby.  She usually gets to be the Mommy and my husband or I is the little girl.  I gave her a couple of real baby bottles, some newborn size onesies, cloth wipes from my diaper stash, and an old receiving blanket.  She uses the tray from one of the twins’ highchair, and we set up a little meal, change some diapers, put the baby to sleep, and have a good time.  No expensive baby doll accessories needed!



–If there is a particular role-playing adventure that you would like to have with your child, you can scour garage sales and thrift stores for needed items.   You could find army items like canteens and binoculars.  Old hats, gloves, purses, etc. can usually be purchased very inexpensively.  I recently found some tiny tin muffin trays at a garage sale for 25 cents.  Perfect addition to the kitchen set!

If you really need some inspiration, Pinterest offers just about every DIY imaginable!  I have a Pinterest idea board with some frugal options, as well as ideas that may take a little more time or money.  They make great gifts!  Now get off the computer and go have some role-playing fun!

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