Imaginative play ideas for a town puzzle floor mat

Apr 6, 2016

Imaginative play makes my three-year-old happy, and that’s enough of a reason for us to do it. It’s also amazing for learning, especially for building sophisticated language skills. One of our favorite ways to do pretend play together is to use the Orchard Toys Giant Town and Giant Road floor puzzles, because they set up an incredibly stimulating small world to explore. In today’s post I’m sharing some ideas for using the Giant Road puzzles in pretend play with toddlers and preschoolers.

imaginative play floor puzzle-1

A floor mat showing a town with roads and other features is a useful prop for imaginative play that will change and develop as children grow. A young toddler might notice a few details and perform a simple action like rolling cars along roads. A preschooler can build up more and more complex stories of adventures taking place in the town.

Imaginative play develops right alongside language skills. Watching how our children play gives parents an amazing window into their developing minds.

Disclosure: We’ve been using the Orchard Toys Giant Town and Giant Road for about 18 months, and it’s still one of our favourite toys and wearing well. I bought Town and Road before starting blogging. Orchard Toys recently sent me the extensions Airport and Giant Railway to review. I’m not sponsored by or affiliated to the company; the opinions here are genuine.

Our Orchard Toys Giant puzzles are marketed for age 3+, but we’ve been using them from age 2. There are small pieces included (cardboard people and vehicles with plastic stands) but these can easily be set aside. The puzzles are very robust, so more toddler-friendly figures or vehicles can certainly be used on them for play.

With toddlers, try to build up the small world gradually. The Orchard Toys Town and Road puzzles are large and very detailed. My older son loves this, and was very excited to add the new extensions. My two-year-old though seemed rather overwhelmed. I would recommend to other parents building up your play set gradually for a toddler.

So what kind of imaginative play do we do with the puzzles? Here are our top 16 ways to use them:

  1. First of all there’s the set-up. The large puzzles first have to be assembled, which is great because setting up a play world is half the fun of imaginative play. Every piece is full of interesting details to notice and to talk about together. The Road puzzle and the Giant Railway extension can be put together in different ways every time you play with them, which helps to renew interest.

Set-up complete, it’s time to play. Here’s what we do:

  1. Take characters on walks, chatting to different animals and people along the way.
  2. Go shopping and run other errands, like posting letters or filling up the car’s tank.
  3. Help characters who are lost to find their way, or find their friends.

The scale of the puzzles makes them ideal for bringing favorite toys into play. My oldest loves to use his toy police car and fire truck to stage rescues:

  1. Help a car that’s stuck in a hole or slipped on ice.
  2. Catch and collect runaway zoo animals.
  3. Rescue a cat stuck on a roof.
  4. Put out a small fire.
  5. Search for and rescue a lost dog.
  6. Bring in diggers and dig up the road, or the tracks.

My youngest is more into animals. Here he is taking Polar Bear to the shops:

polar bear at the shops

  1. Show a stranger around town, such as an animal from another place, or an alien just landed from space.

Now we’ve added the Railway and Airport, so we’ve got a bunch of new plots:

  1. Act out a family leaving on holiday.
  2. Greet people arriving at the airport.
  3. Help characters rush to catch planes or trains when they’re running late.
  4. Take animals on plane journeys back to their homes in the North Pole, the beach, the jungle…
  1. We also use the floor puzzles to act out stories we’ve come across in books or on TV programs. This seems to help my kids to process and understand the stories better. One example is the Town puzzle includes a busker, which makes it perfect for acting out Julia Donaldson’s Tabby McTat!

Maybe you’re wondering how much I’m involved in the play and storytelling, and how much is led by my kids. They do play independently with these puzzles for long stretches of time. In fact, on the rainy day we first set up the new extensions my three-year-old literally played with it all day.

That said, I’ve found that getting down on the floor with them and helping them to act out little dramas sparks their imaginations and gets them to think in new ways. Often it’s them telling me what to do; sometimes I’m the one getting the story rolling. I love the way this kind of play strengthens our communication skills and brings us closer together.

I keep these puzzles in a cupboard, not on open access, and bring them out for special play times about once a week. This helps keep my kids interested and focused.

Do you have any favorite stories to act out using similar small worlds? I’d love to hear about them!

If you’d like more ideas for imaginative play with small worlds or vehicles, check out my book: Word Boosting: A practical guide to encouraging your toddler’s language skills, with 365+ easy playtime activities. The book includes more specific suggestions for supporting language learning with imaginative play and with puzzles, along with hundreds of other activities, and practical ideas for helping your little one get talking.

This post is shared at Brilliant Blog Posts and Let Kids Be Kids.

imaginative play puzzles




  1. Su {Ethan & Evelyn}
    April 24, 2016

    I bet the kids have lots of many hours on play with these puzzles. 🙂 #letkidsbekids

  2. Let Kids Be Kids
    April 25, 2016

    Great ideas. My son in particular has always loved small world play and even now aged 8, still adores his playmobil. This looks like an amazing floor puzzle, perfect for this imaginary play.
    Thanks for sharing with #LetKidsBeKids

  3. Kathleen
    April 25, 2016

    Thanks for stopping by and commenting!


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