Supporting Learning in Dramatic Play

When children use their imaginations, they can turn about anything into a dramatic play object.  A block becomes a phone, a shoestring becomes a gas hose, or a sticker becomes a bandage. In many classrooms the place for dramatic play area has traditionally been set in the housekeeping center. However, children aren’t limited to using their imaginations in just the housekeeping center, so we often see them replaying scenarios that have taken place in other areas of their lives – such as the store, bank, gas station, doctor’s office, etc. We can enhance children’s language, social, motor and cognitive learning by offering them props and space to do this imaginative play.

The Center for Early Childhood Education at Eastern Connecticut State University has a series of videos demonstrating toddlers and preschoolers engaged in lively dramatic play, including a train station, garden and bakery.  In each play scenario you can see that the teachers chose themes that were authentic to the children’s interests, and used creative props to spark the student’s imagination.  Children were also involved in creating the play space and props. The teachers didn’t stop at just providing the materials, but also stayed close to join in the play, ask open-ended questions, and helped scaffold children’s learning by providing supports when necessary.

If your housekeeping area has gone stale and you are tired of saying, “Can you cook me spaghetti?  Mmm that tastes good,” then change things up! Listen to what the children are interested in, or recent experiences they have had outside of their homes and school, and make a plan to recreate a space for them to experience it again on a whole new level. Be sure to include them in the planning and making of props – you shouldn’t get to have all the fun!

If you are looking for idea starters, check out the prop boxes in our lending library.  We have a variety of themes to choose from to help you add interest to your classroom. 

For example, in our prop box, “Bank/Office,” we have books you can read with the children to get them talking and thinking about what they know and what they have experienced in these settings.

There is an office phone, calendar and phone book for children to practice their numeracy skills while conducting important business.

 A keyboard, date stamp and checks for them to practice letter knowledge, writing and other fine motor skills.

A money tray to practice classifying, comparing and sorting, as well as number recognition.

Briefcases, business cards and work shirts to spark their imaginations and conversations.

And of course the ATM machine to practice problem-solving, social, and fine motor skills.

What are some of your favorite dramatic play themes?