The Preschool Pirate

It could be all this writing about imaginative play that has got me thinking about pirates.  Or maybe it was my 4-year-old’s comments about “the pirate species”.  (“You know mom, guys with eye patches and swords – the pirate species!”)  Either way, I thought I’d share some pirate fun with you!

  While I wouldn’t recommend pirates as an overall “theme” for a preschool curriculum (not a lot of directly applicable learning objectives unless plundering is on your list)  it can be used to teach some great elements within another theme.  I like to add it in as a fun twist within another unit like water or oceans or something like that.  I personally like to add it in at the end of the unit, as a celebration! 

So whether you’re looking for ideas to use within a curriculum, or just some fun ways to play and learn with your little buccaneers, here are a few suggestions:

Make an amazing pirate ship from cardboard using plans and fasteners from Mr. McGroovy.  (This site is definitely worth checking out for a variety of prop ideas for dramatic play or a special event!)  If you’re feeling a little less ambitious, just grab a map, a telescope, and a compass, hop aboard your couch or bed and let imagination set sail!

Make a Pirate Snack Mix and use a variety of math concepts – as well as your taste buds!

Have a Treasure Hunt, or play this Treasure Task game!  Following those clues builds cognitive skills and really helps children get into the role of the swashbuckler!

Hunt for pennies in sand and shells in the sensory bin, or fill plastic eggs with pennies and bury them in a larger sandbox outside.  Builds sensory and large motor skills, and it’s loads of fun!  You could also hide beads as “jewels” and then bring them in for a stringing activity!

Read one of these great pirate books:

Shiver Me Letters: A Pirate ABC

Shiver Me Letters by June Sobel is quite possibly my favorite alphabet-based story.  Just fantastic!  Couple it with the Pirate Snack Mix, or bury small letters in your sandbox or sensory bin for a twist on the digging activity above!

Pirate Pete's Talk Like a Pirate

Pirate Pete’s Talk Like a Pirate by Kim Kennedy is such a fun read, full of wonderful vocabulary and great story structure.  Just be sure to use your full repertoire of narrative voices to bring each character to life!  (And don’t forget Talk Like a Pirate Day (September 19th)!)

How I Became a Pirate

How I Became a Pirate by Melinda Long (and illustrated by one of my favorites, David Shannon) is a fanciful tale of, well, how a boy becomes a pirate, of course!  An inside look at the life of a pirate, and a few reasons why it’s more fun to simply pretend!  Follow up with a treasure hunt, or by making a picture map of your room or play yard!

What are your favorite pirate adventures to share with your little scallywags?

Top photo by borja.

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Filed under book activity, Building Readers, dramatic play, Learning through Play and Experience, Recipes - Edible

11 responses to “The Preschool Pirate

  1. Cool post about pirate fun!

    We love the book, Tough Boris by Mem Fox.
    such a good book.

    It is a sad story, but a touching one. Good to use when talking about feelings, as the pirate is sad because his beloved parrot has died.

    Homeschool Share has a cool unit on pirate activities:

    Love your blog! Read it every day.

    Hope that you will pop by mine sometime, too.

    🙂 Colleen

    • notjustcute

      I’m glad you mentioned Tough Boris, Colleen! That is a great book (Mem Fox is fantastic), and a perfect conversation starter for exploring feelings and empathy. Thanks for sharing the links. And your blog is great!

  2. Sandra

    I was just wondering what other parents think about pirates in play and pirates in real life. I know, it is all about pretend play – good guys, bad guys – but with pirates I always found (when I was a kid and long after), that pirates are actually good guys. Until about two years ago, that is. When all the pirating started anew around Africa, with people killed and lots of hostages taken. Ever since I’ve had a hard time finding the right way to let my toddler enjoy “the pirate species”. Because I don’t really think pirates are to play with or to admire.
    Any thoughts on that side anyone?

    • notjustcute

      Great question, Sandra. I’ve struggled with this a bit myself. One of my sons is very much into exploring what is real and what is not real. He asks sometimes if pirates are real. Tough one. While I immediately think of Somali pirates when he asks that, I know he’s actually talking about “Pirate Pete”. So I have explained that there aren’t pirates like that anymore, that the people who use the word pirate about real people today aren’t like that. I explain that when we like to play pirates, we’re talking about fun adventures on the high seas – the good guys you talked about. I’ve mentioned a time or two that there are some people that are sometimes called pirates today, but that they are bad guys, and that we don’t want to play like them.

      After a while that seemed like too much information, and a little too confusing. So I think I’ve just decided to think of them as homophones – the words sound exactly the same, but have very different meanings. My son is thinking of Pirate Pete and Tough Boris when he plays pirates. Unless he’s asking specifically about Somali pirates after observing a news piece, I don’t think that needs much attention at his age.

      Sometimes he’ll ask if pirates are “good guys” or “bad guys” and then we talk about that being a matter of choice. Just like any role – the mom, the doctor, the pirate – they’re a “good guy” or a “bad guy” because of their choices, not because of their title. So we’ll talk about that and the fact that pirates can make bad choices and be “bad guys”, but that we like to pretend like the “good guy” pirates and make good choices.

      It can be a tricky thing to figure out – I’ve struggled with it myself. But I think ultimately we just have to separate the two concepts because from the child’s perspective it really is about two different things. And usually, they’re not even aware of the ones in the news today. We could just call those guys “robbers” and keep the classic pirates in their own category.

      Intriguing question! Anymore thoughts on the matter?

  3. Every late January to early February, in Tampa, Florida, they do a big Gasparilla Celebration.
    They do a children’s parade, a festival, and folks decorate their home with pirate door arrangements that feature tropical flowers, beads, feathers, and then pirate motif items…most everyone keeps it fun, having things like a parrot or an eye patch, etc.
    For the children’s parade, little ones get to deck out their strollers, wagons, bikes, or scooters in a pirate motif. Some parents actually convert the kids’ strollers to look like pirate ships.
    The children walk in the parade, they do bike safety checks if you want them, etc.
    Then, afterward, there are floats with pirate themes…these floats throw wrapped candies and beads for the children.
    A real pirate ship goes along the bay and they do a big fireworks display at night. It is all supposed to be a recreation of the invasion of Tampa Bay by Jose Gaspar.
    This is generally when we mention pirate themed things.
    They do do a much wilder version of the whole Gasparilla invasion and parade for adults on another weekend. This is held closer to Y’Bor City, a historic area of the city. We have not gone to that, as it supposedly gets very crazy and some people get pretty drunk.
    The city does a nice job of keeping the two events separate.
    We do not let our children watch the news or read on the computer about world events such as Somali pirates, as they are too young.
    To them, the concept of pirates is just for a themed parade where you get candies and beads and gets to make your trikes and bikes look cool.
    We have not even gotten into the historical aspects of pirates in Tampa, as again, they are too young.
    They also have the book, Tough Boris, and Edward and the Pirates, as well as some pirate Playmobil sets. They use the Playmobil with our water play table or else in our soaking tub.

  4. We played pirate this year too. Made a big cardboard pirate ship with a blank to walk from. My husband built the ship wheel which was a big hit. There were so many fun activities about searching that were fun to do.
    I worried about the ‘rough’ play and how I would handle it. Just a couple of days after it was set up a few children and their grown-ups (the program requires an adult to stay and play with the child) made cardboard swords. It went well. There were sword fights and they stayed on the civil side. I think maybe because there was much to do (the wheel, the plank, the cannon, searching for jewels and gold nuggets).
    We went out into the community to do a treasure hunt. I made up a photo map of landmarks for them to follow. Over 30 children and their grown-ups showed up.
    The ship stayed up for about a month.

  5. Just wanted to let you know I included this post in my weekly Reading Roundup. Your site is one of my faves! We currently have a pirate exhibition at our state museum, so this was full of great inspiration! 🙂

  6. Elijah

    Does anyone know how to decorate a stroller to look like a pirates ship?

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