The game you are about to learn can support your child’s brain development, build IQ and language skills.  However, it had its humble origins inspired by…a movie cartoon!  That’s right, while watching Disney’s The Little Mermaid, I developed this new take on a classic dramatic play game: playing “store”.  It has been wildly popular in our Child’s Play NY theater classes, and most importantly is requested all the time by my son and his buddies this winter during indoor playtime.  

While playing “store” is not unique on the dramatic play front, this new take on it will give you some structure to jump in and play with your kids. Kid IQ gets a boost from the variations (like recall and rhyme – read on to learn more). Most importantly, it can be great to develop elasticity in the brain and forge deeper connection with you!


Play allows children to use their creativity while developing their imagination, dexterity, and physical, cognitive, and emotional strength. Play is important to healthy brain development. It is through play that children at a very early age engage and interact in the world around them.

  • The Importance of Play in Promoting Healthy Child Development and Maintaining Strong Parent-Child Bonds
    Kenneth R. Ginsburg and the Committee on Communications, and the Committee on Psychosocial Aspects of Child and Family Health


Watch this video to see Silly Shop in action.  You’ll see toddlers in a preschool working to explain the functions of objects.  Check out the astute weigh-in from Dr. Aliza Pressman of Seedlings Group and Mt. Sinai Parenting Center.  You may also learn a new word or two like: “paramabooboo”, “tingle-sprinkles” and “banana face”!


So, you know the part in The Little Mermaid where that silly seagull, Scuttle, pretends to know all the things from the human world?   It is comic gold – he’s benignly goofy and totally befuddled. He calls a fork a “dinglehopper” and uses it to coiff his hair.  A pipe he calls a “snarfblatt” and he thinks it is a musical instrument. In short, this seagull – while professing to be an expert in all things human, really gets it all wrong.  Ariel is an innocent, and she ends up thinking a fork is supposed to be used to comb her hair (much to Prince Eric’s chagrin!). Indeed, kids watching this movie take such delight in being the “expert” (and knowing more than that silly seagull) and might even yell out at the TV, “That’s a fork!”.  At least that’s what happened in my house.  Hence, the inspiration for this game.  


While this game – which I call, “Silly Shop”, is very much inspired by the shenanigans of Scuttle, it goes deeper than that. This is a way you can boost your child’s IQ, confidence, and most importantly provide pleasurable memories of bonding with you.  This in turn can have lifetime lasting impact on your relationship with your child…not too bad for a little dramatic play!  


How To Play Silly Shop

Like other “real-world” games we play in Child’s Play NY, this one is best when you loosely imitate what one would experience when actually going to a real shop!  For more games like this play Magical Elevator or Taxi.

  • Set up a “shop” full of real-world objects.  Some things I recently used: a three-hole-punch, a rolling pin, an eggplant, a remote control and tweezers.


  • Create a point of “entry” into the shop, a door that gets knocked on, or a doorbell that is rung.  This initiates the playing.


  • Assume the role of a shopkeeper (later you can switch roles with your child).  Make sure that you have total confidence in what your items are, however, make sure that they are all called the wrong name and given a function that they don’t really have.   


  • Establish a payment transaction that ends the playing.  This could be something like money or jewels or it could be something performative, like a dance or a song.  


Your appreciation of the exchange as well as learning about the object from your “customer” will provide ooodles of pleasure for both you and your child.  


Switch off roles, letting your child pick the objects that they want to buy, or becoming the shop owner.  Let them pick out the objects for sale.


Tips on Playing to Elevate Brain Boosting

Create Restrictions to Help IQ and Literacy

 IQ boosting game of shop

  • Your store is specific for character or theme: Tools for Superheroes or Gadgets for Princesses, in this way you help kids hone in both with what they love and also help them get specific with what the items do.  


  • All the items could start with a certain letter or rhyme with the same ending sound. With rhyming words or letter practice you are  boosting kids’ literacy skills even as they play.


  • Use only grown-up tools to see if kids really know the name of things in your house.  For example, stock your “store” with a spatula, whisk, guitar pick, a remote control. See if they know what the objects are really called (and what their function is) when you make up funny names for them. As Dr. Aliza Pressman suggests in the video above, this is a great way for you to gauge what they do and don’t know and for you to teach through play.   


Boost Young Brains with Math, Literacy and Artistry


  • For kids 5 and up, you can work in math practice.  Tell them how much something is worth ($5 for my whack-a-doo and $7 for this pipa-pop) and then have them tally up the amounts with a paper and pencil or even on their fingers.  They can then decide if they have enough money to buy what they want!


“Most people are just too lazy to make up their own words…but it is much more fun.”

– The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster


  • Of course this game is most fun when you make up words.  When you do so you’ll be following kin the great footsteps of Dr Seuss and Shakespeare.  Who knows, maybe you’ll even create new words for household objects that will induce giggles for your family.


  • However, brains and IQ get a special boost when you work your mind and recall the words that you created.  Your child can come up with the pretend words for the items in the shop, and you can try to remember all the items after you hear them, let them check you.  Then let them recall the names of what is in their shop.  You can pretend to get it wrong too, just make sure you are playing in character.  This recall helps their working memory which in turn helps them with mathematics.  A strong working memory allows the brain to briefly hold new information while it’s needed in the short term. It is a core Executive Function Skill and something that can be practiced – and strengthened – through play. 


  • Turn this into a great rainy-day game and go deep into building out the store.  Set up price-tags with numbers on the objects for sale. Additionally, you could have your child group the new merchandise according to function – for example, all musical instruments go in one section, all kitchen products in another.  Finally make sign on the store, like an “open”, and a special name for the store (bust out paints and glitter for this!) and hang it on the wall.

Use New Twists to Go Deeper into Play


Character is everything

I usually default to the character of the “Silly Seagull” when I play this game.  You can take on any role you like, but keep in mind it is great to play someone who is goofy and can have a lower status than your child’s character since they are teaching you about the merchandise!  


Here are some examples of how you can play around with characters:

  • Superhero Store – you are a famous sidekick like Robin or even a superhero parent like Jor-el or a family member from the Incredibles.
  • Aquatic Store – Your child plays Nemo to your Dory, or Little Mermaid to your Scuttle.
  • Outerspace Store – You play an Alien and your child is from Earth, even playing a character of an astronaut or Buzz Lightyear, explaining the name and function of things on our planet.


Location, location, location

IQ game makes eating fun

Play around with WHERE your shop is located to help in tough parenting moments. Here are three ideas of how this works:


  1. If you are working with a picky eater, set your “shop” as a grocery store or restaurant.  Your child can explain back to you the value of the foods on their plate and what they are really called.
  2. If your child is starting school: set your shop in your new school and let your child be the expert about how school works and what tools a teacher and kids need to have a successful school.  
  3. Getting ready to take a big trip, nervous about travelling with your child?  Establish your shop for travelers.  Let them teach you what a seat-belt is called, all about the tray-table and the true function of the flight attendant call-button!


Play this Game to Make Parenting Easier


  • I love this game as a before-bed wind-down game.  Make a plan for how many items you are going to “buy” or “sell” so that it doesn’t get drawn-out and there are no late-night negotiations.   
  • Use it to help clean-up through play.  All the toys that are out are fair-game to be on the “shelf” and once they get “bought” they get put away.  This is an example of how rather than just saying, “clean up your room” or tidying up for your kids, you can weave the chore into a game.
  • Play it as a family game to get siblings to play and bond together.  You can also set this game in motion and then walk away!
  • Set it up on a playdate or a sleepover. Help to make sure that the rules of play are specific so that turn-taking and transitions are smooth without you needing to be involved.  
  • Play this as a car game – especially great for siblings and friends.  Although the driver likely shouldn’t be involved, the backseat passengers can go crazy!  Pack a bag of small and funny objects, they can even be a surprise for the kids.


Play, the Brain and the Parent-Child Bond

It can be a challenge to work in bonding playtime time with your child.  Most of us are just trying to get the daily tasks accomplished (clean clothes in the drawer, food on the table, kid out the door….you know what I’m talking about).  That’s why this simple game – that can take 10 minutes to play, and has an easy structure to follow – can be a simple formula to add some fun and games into your parenting!   This is a brain boost and a self-esteem boost and can help you understand where your child is developmentally as well.

It blows my mind when I learn how flexible our brains are.  Especially, the brain of a child, which developmental psychologists liken to a muscle (even though it is an organ!).  For a great read that is even kid friendly, check out, Your Fantastic Elastic Brain.

Through repetition you can strengthen it and even create new neural pathways. Kids’ brains from 0-5 are constantly re-wiring themselves based on the information that they receive.  You can essentially train your child to love and crave family bonding time by making your experiences with them pleasurable.


“With every fun, enjoyable experience you give your children while they are with the family, you provide them with positive reinforcement about what it means to be in loving relationship with others.  One reason has to do with a chemical in your brain called dopamine. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter, which means that it enables communication between brain cells. Your brain cells receive what some people call “dopamine squirts” when something pleasurable happens to you, and it motivates you to want to do it again…We can help produce dopamine squirts that reinforce positive and healthy desires, like enjoying family relationships.  Dopamine is the chemical of reward – and play and fun are rewarding in our lives.”

The Whole-Brain Child, Daniel J. Siegel, M.D. and Tina Payne Bryson, Ph.D.


Hope you enjoy all those “dopamine squirts” while playing Silly Shop!  


Let me know how you enjoyed it and what new ways you new words and ways you played!


Thanks for reading and watching!








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