What is dramatic play?
Dramatic play, or pretend play, is the act of using our surroundings and resources, to take on the role of someone (or something) else.
Chances are, you are already naturally inviting your students to dramatic play by inspiring them to pretend to be a character from a book, by giving dialogue and personality to inanimate objects, or through playing “house” or “dress-up”.
The more we understand the benefits of pretend play, the better we will be able to recognize the role it plays in supporting our children emotionally, cognitively, physically and socially.
The two types of pretend play are structured and unstructured.
Unstructured dramatic play:
⋒ A myriad of different characters and scenarios can unravel at the same time in one learning space
⋒ Self-assigned goals
Structured dramatic play:
⋒ Co-constructed & planned
⋒ Targeted theme
⋒ Predetermined roles
- Ignites imagination & curiosity 🧚🏼♀️
- Teaches life skills 🍳
- Fosters relationship-building & conflict resolution 👯♀️
- Promotes impulse control
- Organically hits many literacy and numeracy goals 🗣
- Supports the development of fine & gross motor skills 🖍
- Provides a safe space for children to cope with trauma, an overabundance of energy, etc.
+ Not to mention special roles and interests correlate directly to positive mental health 🧠 🌸
Where to begin?
Unstructured dramatic play can be encouraged, but naturally happens on its own.
For example, Group A wants to have a singing competition so they grab pencils as their microphones, while Group B decides to simultaneously participate in the Olympics by using their pencils as distance markers to see how far they’ve jumped.
This leaves the opportunity to go over how you can facilitate successful structured dramatic play-area in your learning areas at home or in school.
1) Less is often more.
Quite often we avoid setting up structured pretend play because we feel Pinterest pressure to have the best of everything, and to provide every tool possible.
The truth is, in a child-centered learning environment, we should look to them to create, assemble and bring their center to life.
Anything more is just to impress other adults walking by or scrolling through your feed, for fear of having to explain what it is they are looking at, when this is just a distraction from the real learning at play.
I do like to set my students up with basic tools and signs to promote literacy and fine motor skills, but we co-create and co-select what would work best. Some years, we are able to have a plethora of options and others, we are very conscious of how many supplies we put out at once so as to not overwhelm our students with sensory issues.
Regardless of your group, it is crucial that they have a say in what it will look like. For example, in the Sweet Shop dramatic play center, the kids thought that our shredded, crinkled paper & some cotton ball foam would make for a perfect hot cocoa. Their choice= they are more likely to feel empowered and want to use it more often.
Here are some other pictures to inspire fun. Again, your choices may look different from ours based on what you have in your cupboards or recycling bin- the beauty of true imagination-driven instruction.
You do not need to go shopping, but if you do want to make it a family date night where your child picks out the materials, the dollar store has anything you could ever need.
Some of our go-to loose parts include:
- Cotton balls
- Pom poms
- Crinkled, shredded gift wrap paper
- Pipe cleaners
- Play Doh
- Cookie cutters
- Paper cups
- Styrofoam packing balls
- Felt sheets
- Foam sheets & foam stickers
- Flowers & leaves
- Kinetic sand
- Dried corn or beans
- Dried rice
- Cardboard tubes
- Baby food/ Yogurt/ Tupperware containers
- Pine cones
- Cut up pool noodles
- Ribbon/ String
- & more!
- P.s. Don't forget to include tools to support fine motor skills such as: tweezers, tongs + other kitchen tools, turkey basters, Play Doh, pencil crayons or crayons, etc.
2) Go with the flow.
Dramatic play might have some cute elements, but let me assure you that it is messy and unstructured- two words that make every perfectionist with me right now cringe.
It’s sometimes hard to strike a balance between the nagging-need-to-bring-order, and play, so here are a few guidelines if you are your child’s primary playmate or if you want to pop in while they interact with their peers/ siblings:
⋒ Ask open-ended questions to promote oral communication skills such as reasoning, problem-solving, retelling
⋒ Let the children lead & don’t overstay
⋒ The first rule o̶f̶ ̶f̶i̶g̶h̶t̶ ̶c̶l̶u̶b̶ is: there are no rules. Other than reinforcing safe choices and inclusion (look out for your friends with social anxiety, etc.), your role is to observe them bloom, not to stifle. By imposing your thought process, you are inhibiting imagination, growth and natural problem-solving.
Be a peaceful observer and you will gather more assessment and information about this child than you could have ever foreseen.
Do you enjoy providing opportunities for dramatic play in your class/ home?
If any of these ideas have been helpful, reply below or tag us @namasteinschools on Instagram!