Dramatic play is a highly regarded form of play that is integral in engaging several areas of a child’s cognitive development.
We believe that more dramatic play translates to effective early childhood development and school readiness. As a result, we incorporate meaningful dramatic play as a central pillar in the Raising Stars curriculum to ensure cognitive engagement and growth for your child.
What is Dramatic Play?
Dramatic play, also known as pretend play, involves a child adopting pretend roles in order to engage in make believe scenarios. The open design of this play aims to target a child’s imagination, encouraging them to accept roles to be something different and immerse themselves in a pretend world. The dramatic scenarios that occur from these imaginative creations can be further enhanced by using creative stimuli such as costumes, props or staged environments.
When dramatic play involves other children, it is known as sociodramatic play, which becomes an invaluable opportunity to teach children cooperative social skills organically.
The Importance of Dramatic Play
Dramatic play is a critical method for engaging a child’s creativity in a safe environment, encouraging them to explore the limits of their imagination.
Furthermore, the dynamic and changing nature of dramatic play offers limitless potential in developing multiple areas of a child’s cognitive ability.
Types of Dramatic Play
Dramatic play can be divided into two types: structured play and unstructured play.
Structured dramatic play involves educators designing scenarios with a specific learning outcome in mind. During structured play, a child will encounter set problems, and educators will guide their thinking of ways to overcome them.
For example, during a bakery role play, a child can be encouraged to create a menu with prices for each item. The specific problem prompts children to think of numbers and pricing, therefore achieving the learning outcome of developing their numeracy skills.
Unstructured dramatic play adopts a free form approach, allowing a child to design their own environments, scenarios and characters.
In this play context, a child has the freedom to let their imagination transport them to new worlds or revisit scenarios that they encounter in everyday life outside the centre. For example, a child can imitate Mum or Dad at the post office and position themselves in various roles to enhance understandings of real life interactions.
Features of Dramatic Play
There are two key features that educators should incorporate to encourage meaningful dramatic play experiences for children.
The first is creative play design, which involves children developing their own:
The second key feature is language engagement and social interactions, which supports children to:
- Direct or negotiate play
- Interact and create dialogue with make believe characters
- Open play and communicate with other children (sociodramatic play)
Dramatic Play Benefits
Dramatic play experts agree that there is a range of benefits associated with dramatic play, and therefore should be an integral part of any early childhood learning centre’s curriculum.
Here are the main benefits that emerge from dramatic play.
Language development is a key benefit that emerges from dramatic play, particularly for children who usually shy away from participating in groups as they ‘hide’ behind their character. Dramatic play also offers a child the chance to use expressive language and practice interaction patterns they encounter in the real world.
Furthermore, dramatic play encourages children to communicate from the perspective of their created character. In return, this promotes a child’s motivation to adopt new vocabulary and develop higher-order language that they normally wouldn’t use.
Maths and Literacy Growth
Dramatic play has also been linked to developing literacy and numeracy skills in children. Play scenarios can often provide children with early exposure to complex maths concepts such as money, and can enhance writing and spelling abilities. For example, a pretend pizza parlour provides a child with the opportunity to design menus, set prices for pizzas and write down orders.
Learning to Self Regulate Emotions
Research has also indicated that dramatic play can act as a vehicle for teaching a child meaningful lessons in emotional self regulation. Children are known to display poor emotional control, evidenced through extreme overreactions, the inability to calm themselves or dramatic changes in moods.
In return, studies suggest that children are more likely to self regulate emotions to stay in character, therefore offering a valuable learning experience in mood control.
For example, if a child is acting like a superhero, they embody characteristics such as resilience and bravery. This dramatic play experience exposes them to these values that they then can apply when confronted with dramatic or frightening experiences, exhibiting the emotional restraint of their imagined superhero.
Psychologists have found that children aged between 2-5 years benefit from pretend play following a traumatic event. This is because children empower themselves by reliving previous traumatic experiences from the perspective of a strong character. Through this empowered perspective, children can feel safe and confident within the memory of the traumatic experience.
For example, if a child was involved in a car accident, they could relive this experience through dramatic play through the perspective of a paramedic who is calm and confident.
Considerations for Dramatic Play in Childcare and Early Childhood
Establishing a safe and engaging dramatic play area is a key priority for our Raising Stars learning centres. As a result, there are many considerations that we take into account to ensure that a child’s dramatic play is meaningful.
Size and Location
When planning a dramatic play area, accounting for how many children are occupying the space is a central consideration. For this reason, we like to establish a floor plan to distribute our play areas effectively so that children can’t run into each other and the noise doesn’t intersect designated zones.
Selecting dramatic play themes best suited to the children’s wants and needs is another vital consideration. We like to provide a variety of themes throughout the year, constantly changing our space to offer new and exciting environments to explore with their imaginations.
Equipment and Materials
Selecting the best equipment and materials are essential for driving a child’s dramatic play experience. Our educators are intentional and considered when choosing which props or materials would best promote meaningful dramatic play experiences.
How Can You Encourage Dramatic Play?
Encouraging dramatic play is vital in promoting a child’s creativity and comfortability to participate. At Raising Stars, we use a range of props and set designs to get the kids’ creativity rolling.
Furthermore, as educators, we use a range of techniques as passive observers to encourage children to participate in dramatic play. These include:
- Nodding, smiling and showing interest in the scenario
- Helping children construct props costumes and set design
- Making suggestions to enhance play
- Assuming character roles and following child directions
- Introducing conflict and problems
- Facilitating discussions and problem solving
Dramatic Play Ideas and Examples
In our Raising Stars learning centres, we employ a range of dramatic play ideas that engage imaginations and encourage that children act creatively.
Some examples of our dramatic play includes:
- Airport role play: Children love the airport environment and airport play pushes them to use higher-order language skills, expanding their vocabulary
- Grocery store, florist or bakery pretend play: Children tend to use their maths and literacy skills in store settings. For instance, young children imitate their parents by writing down recipes and making a shopping list.
- Pretend hospital: Children assign different characters and use expressive language when describing their symptoms to the doctor or nurse. This example of dramatic play offers children the opportunity to engage their creativity by turning everyday objects into medical instruments.
- Post office role playing: This engages children’s literacy skills, as we encourage them to write letters to their friends or family before going to the post office to mail them.
Here are some in-depth ideas that you can try at home with your child.
Kitchen Dramatic Play
We find that children love to adopt the role of important figures in their lives – this means Mum and Dad! Our kitchen dramatic play area offers children the creative tools needed to design their recipes and provides opportunities for language development.
Kids naturally gravitate to the kitchen as we include a range of props and dress up clothes that they enjoy.
Library Dramatic Play
An imagined library environment is full of teachable moments for children to learn about and expand their literacy. We engage children’s creativity by prompting them to make their own library cards that allow them to check out and return books, driving them to understand the value of property.
Furthermore, we find that dramatic library play is an excellent way for fostering motivations for reading and literature.
When children’s play opens to other children or adults, it is known as sociodramatic play. Sociodramatic play is even more dynamic than dramatic play as the storyline constantly evolves with each child’s contribution.
Benefits of Sociodramatic Play
A fundamental part of early childhood education is ensuring school readiness. A vital aspect of this is developing a child’s understanding of conflict resolution and cooperation, a theme that sociodramatic play encourages.
Children are often prompted to collaborate in their storylines and interact with other make believe characters during sociodramatic play. In return, the play aids in developing the need to understand the varying perspectives that emerge in conflict resolution and, build on their ability to cooperate.
Sociodramatic Play Examples
Our restaurant setting often encourages sociodramatic play, as we prompt children to accept different roles such as the customer, chef, waiter or manager. In addition, children like to design menus, which is an invaluable opportunity for enhancing literacy abilities.
Furthermore, the different roles help children learn interaction patterns between people while also expanding their vocabulary through making polite demands.
Our Raising Stars hair salon is another enjoyable example of dramatic play. Children help develop cognitive skills such as fine motor development as they take turns in brushing hair, giving pretend hair cuts and painting nails.
The hair salon offers children development in motor skills, and a sensory experience while playing with our non-harmful products.
Learning Theory: How do Leong and Bodrova Describe Dramatic Play?
Leong and Bodrova note that the type of play is essential for effective child development. In addition, the dramatic play experts state that adults play a crucial role in ensuring that children’s play reaches its full potential.
For this reason, Leong and Bodorva developed the PRoPELS acronym to help adults and educators identify the most valued elements to emerge from dramatic play.
PRoPELS stands for:
- Plan: the ability to organise play
- Roles: the ability to embody the actions, language and emotional expressions of their role
- Props: the ability to use objects that are either real, symbolic or imaginary to promote creative play
- Extended: the ability to play for longer periods. Leong and Bodrova state that effective play sessions should last for at least one hour or be extended over multiple days
- Language: the ability to communicate imagined environments to others, as well as coordinate actions of other children and the appropriate speech for their role
- Scenario: the ability to create contexts that are open to interaction
Therefore, adults should focus on and encourage these proposed elements of dramatic play to create the best possible learning experiences for children.
Dramatic Play and the EYLF
The Australian Government recognises dramatic play as a fundamental pillar for establishing a well rounded preschool program.
For this reason dramatic play is referenced in the following outcomes of the Early Years Learning Framework (EYLF):
- Outcome 1: Children have a strong sense of identity
- Outcome 2: Children are connected with and contribute to their world
- Outcome 4: Children are confident and involved learners
- Outcome 5: Children are effective communicators
Within these outcomes, dramatic play is consistently referenced as an example for achieving the desired outcomes.
Check out our guide to the EYLF if you’re curious about how we implement it in our Raising Stars centres.