Sometimes a little play can be a lot of work. Just ask Theresa Yarber, a Nashville teacher who recently became a bit of a celebrity for the Target-inspired dramatic play space she created in her preschool classroom. Of course, when the result is a group of children who are playing together, using their imaginations and feeling excited to go to school each day—all the extra effort is worth it.
Theresa’s built a number of play spaces through the years, but the Target-inspired one has definitely struck a chord. “My goal as a teacher is to have the kids say they can’t wait to get to school because it’s so fun, and I knew this would be a great place to start,” Theresa says. “I love Target and the kids love Target.”
This particular magical space for make-believe includes an area for Bullseye’s Playground (made with a box and balloon), price scanner (created from a shoebox), a shopping cart, red t-shirts for dressing up as Target team members and a Starbucks kitchen. Reflecting on her first day with the sweet setup, Theresa shares a story about how the kids took to the theme:
“A little girl put her dog in the cart, walked through the dollar bins with her grande latte and I was like, ‘Are you doing some shopping?’ and she said, ‘No, I’m just browsing.’ And that’s when it really came alive,” Theresa said. “Kids, imagination and a couple of everyday things. That’s all you need.”
We’re obviously big fans of Theresa’s Target play area, but creating a space where kids can practice real life and learn some academic lessons along the way can be done using any number of themes. So we asked Theresa to share a few of her favorites below, along with tips for anyone with imaginative kiddos in their lives to do the same.
Tip #1: Get Inspired By The Everyday
Castles. Martian planets. Legoland. All super fun. But you know what? The everyday environments kids see with their grownups are really amazing, too. “It gives them a glimpse into being grown-up; you have to deal with other people, be friendly to the people serving you coffee, you have to share things,” Theresa says. She usually starts thinking about her next theme a month or two in advance, jotting down ideas as they come to her when she’s out and about.
Tip #2 Don’t Be Afraid to Switch It Up
From pumpkin patches to igloos to post office displays and an ice cream truck in spring, Theresa keeps her dramatic play space fresh. “I absolutely love it because I can be so creative with it,” she says. When she first landed on her Target theme, she looked to Pinterest for more ideas and leaned on friends and neighbors (and her husband and two boys!) to contribute items as she started building it out.
Tip #3 Keep It Simple
“People have been super excited about the Target space, and I tell them, if you want to create something new just ask yourself—what do your students enjoy?” Theresa says. “Let them be your guide. Target was a great opportunity because that was something everyone was familiar with, and then I just went from there.” She adds that everyone should have fun with it, thinking about little details that can be added.
“But really, whatever you choose, just give kids the opportunity to run with it and their imaginations will take off! Bullseye is just a box and a balloon—that’s all it takes and they were thrilled with it. You don’t have to spend a ton of money or a bunch of stuff. That’s the big thing.”
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