There are so many benefits of dramatic play, both socially and academically. With a little careful planning, you can support both social-emotional and academic growth in your students.
What is Dramatic Play?
Dramatic play is a kind of play where children use their imaginations to role play various situations. Common imaginary play themes for young children include playing house (or family, or babies), pretend school, or grocery store. Children sometimes dress up as they play. They also assign roles (for example, mom, brother, baby) to one another and dramatize stories that might happen to the people they pretend to be.
Why is Dramatic Play Important?
Dramatic play helps children develop many age-appropriate skills in a purposeful and engaging way. Some of those skills include:
One of the key benefits of dramatic play involves rehearsing social skills and problem-solving strategies
Dramatic play allows children to role play (and rehearse) common experiences, such as problem-solving as they pretend to be a family, visiting the doctor, or shopping. Additionally, as children play together, small disagreements may arise, allowing practice of conflict resolution skills.
But social skill development goes beyond problem-solving. As children take on different roles in dramatic play, they experience taking various perspectives. For instance, when pretending to be the parent, they need to respond to a crying child in a parent-like manner. A child playing the role of doctor will reassure a child about an upcoming shot. Or a pretend teacher will adopt a “teacher voice” to get the attention of the “class.”
Dramatic play includes a lot of pieces: clothing, dishes, dolls and more. There are a lot of parts to put away when play time ends. To keep the dramatic play center somewhat tidy and usable next time, students need to cooperatively put things back in an organized way. This often involves sorting the pieces into the correct storage bin or shelf. By working to do this quickly every day, students improve their ability to organize materials, which is a KEY part of life.
During dramatic play, children use their imaginations to re-enact familiar stories or life experiences. Somtimes children need to find a creative way to solve a problem (for instance, all of the kittens were adopted from the pet store). Other times they recreate an experience the way they really wanted it to go (for example, they got a puppy for Christmas.)
Most imaginary play experiences involve talk – and a lot of it! As children play different roles, they try on the phrases and vocabulary that go with that role (such as the names of the vegetables at the Farmer’s Market). This helps strengthen oral language and vocabulary.
Many dramatic play “scenes” involve using the hands and fingers. Mommies put clothes on the babies. Daddies put the dishes away. Teachers write on the board. Doctors hold medical tools. Bakers knead play dough to make bread or cookies. All of these activities build fine motor skills in an authentic and meaningful way.
Literacy and Math Concepts:
With a little ingenuity (and careful placement of tools and supplies), teachers and parents can sneak math and literacy concepts into dramatic play. Daddies can read books to babies. Dogs can be fed the food that matches their size (big or little). Letters can be counted in the Post Office. Shopping lists can be made before visiting the grocery store to buy the correct number of items. It is easy for children to apply these early skills in their play.
How Can You Encourage Imaginary Play?
First, give students materials and space to play. Provide open-ended supplies that can encourage imaginary play. Some examples include dress-up clothes, pretend dishes and food (or tools and supplies to match a theme). If you have a kitchen set, include it in the dramatic play space, but allow students to use it in creative ways. If you don’t have a kitchen set, provide a shelf or some large cardboard boxes for students to use in their imaginary play.
Second, give children time. Longer chunks of time allow students to decide roles and a “plot” for their play. Don’t be surprised if their “plot” changes as they play – this is the creative part of the play time. By allowing longer chunks of time (30-60 minutes), children become very engaged in the play and more creative in their actions. (But in that longer chunk of time, allow children to come and go as they please; the dramatic play may have inspired something they want to do with blocks; or they may choose to leave as part of a solution to a conflict.) If you don’t have that much time, carve out as much time in one chunk as you can. Here are several tips for arranging your schedule to include play time. Your children’s imaginations will benefit!
As you can see, there are many social and academic benefits of dramatic play. This is why it is an important part of a child’s day. Make small changes in your dramatic play center to support this development.
Dramatic Play Centers Featured in this Post:
If you are looking for engaging themes for your dramatic play center, check out these ideas.
If you want to learn more about using imaginary play in your classroom, here are a few great books on the topic: