Young children go through many stages of development, and each is as important as the next. Today, we want to review dramatic play and how it can benefit your little learner greatly. We will give you tips and tricks to clue you into the start of the dramatic play stage. Then, we’ll share ideas for introducing different types of dramatic play scenarios at home.
What Is Dramatic Play?
Let’s start at the beginning and define dramatic play (also known as imaginative play) in the context of early childhood education: this is the stage of development in which children begin to identify and become different roles while playing make-believe. They see a range of jobs and personas in everyday life and act out various real-world scenarios in which those individuals might be.
The Benefits of Dramatic Play
There are many benefits to children immersing themselves in different roles and situations, and we’ve compiled them below.
Self-regulation means that children learn how to control their bodies, behaviors, and reactions to different experiences and situations. This type of play allows them to act out different scenarios in which they have jobs or expectations to fulfill.
Emotional intelligence (including self-regulation) helps us stay calm in challenging situations, stay flexible, never give up in the face of adversity and act according to our values. Those who learn self-regulation as children have higher levels of self-confidence and self-esteem than those who do not.
Becoming a functioning member of the community helps adults stay mentally and physically healthy. Like self-regulation, this trait has roots in childhood.
Interacting with other children during dramatic play activities allows kids to understand and identify these roles and how they relate to each other. These learning experiences can be invaluable for kids throughout their lives: While the situation is fictitious, the emotional reasoning is real.
Self-empowerment in early childhood is the ability of kids to make decisions about their daily activities.
Dramatic play offers kids a chance to create situations in which they must make choices, decide how they feel about these decisions, and then consider realistic reactions. In adulthood, this contributes to the ability to be assertive, practice self-care, and set goals.
Games that include math or numbers and letters can help children, especially those that are Pre-K or younger, expand on their cognitive development. They’ll learn and fine-tune problem-solving and decision-making skills by creating games that require them to be in charge of leading the crew.
Children develop language skills when they communicate with other children and adults. While language can be absorbed by listening, understanding the nuances of conversation and arguments expand through play.
Why Dramatic Play Is Important
Dramatic play helps set the stage for children in several developmental phases. It’s an important stepping stone for real-life situations and can help kids lay the foundation for their problem-solving skills later in life.
Stages of Development
There are six stages of play that children go through by the time they reach school-age adolescents. These are:
- Unoccupied Play
- Solitary Play
- Spectator/Onlooker Play
- Parallel Play
- Associate Play
- Cooperative Play
Dramatic play often pops up during the cooperative play stage and can benefit children by teaching them how to play with other children when they finally have a desire to do so. Unlike onlooker play, dramatic play involves direct interactions, both physical and mental.
Time for School
By Pre-K and elementary school, it’s becoming typical to see children take on social roles. Dramatic play can help shy kids relate to those who are sociable. It’s also a fantastic way to introduce new students to larger, pre-existing groups and integrate them into the social structure.
Tools for the Future
Learning how to cooperate, compromise, and communicate as youngsters helps them build the stepping stones they’ll need for these aspects of socialization as adults.
Examples of Dramatic Play
There are many examples of dramatic play. In fact, the examples and games you can create within the context of dramatic play are endless. These examples, however, can give you a great starting point for helping your child find fun ways to develop their dramatic play skills.
Structured vs. Unstructured
It’s important to know that there are two ways to develop games, and it’s critical to utilize both of them. The first is structured play, in which you decide ahead of time how the game will begin, develop, and inevitably end.
The second is unstructured play, and while you still have parameters in which the game will follow, the details and outcomes of situations that may arise are unrehearsed and thought of on the spot.
When going through our list of dramatic play games, you’ll want to design games using both types of play. This way, children can act out different feelings and emotions and create resolutions using structured play. They can also create situations and decide how they would like to react using unstructured play. They’ll each teach something different and are of equal importance.
Let’s dive into a few dramatic play ideas:
Kids can benefit greatly from taking on the roles of parents while playing house. They’ll be able to resolve conflicts they’ve had with you in the past and learn how to be caregivers.
Learning to care for others and take care of a household are vital skills that kids will need as they get older. When playing House, a playset can serve as the home. Toys like dolls and stuffed animals are great additions that boost empathy and social processing skills.
If you have an animal lover on your hands, a vet’s office might be a better option for dramatic play. Allow your child to assess a stuffed animal’s injury and decide the best way to remedy the situation. You can use printables for x-rays and create a full vet’s office in the living room.
Get into the game by acting out the role of receptionist and checking patients into the vet’s office (playhouse). You can also help them create “bills” for patients to quietly work on their math skills.
To play grocery clerk or imagine owning a small grocery store, use empty cardboard boxes as shelves and stock them with plastic food items or other smaller boxes that mimic foods.
They’ll be able to converse with customers and develop social skills along the way. Fake money is handy here — it increases the realism factor and helps children understand how change works.
Capes and masks and superpowers are all the finer points of being a superhero, not to mention saving people from dire situations. Kids love to dress up and role play as their favorite superheroes, and getting to save you from a villain is icing on the cake.
A vivid imagination is a vital piece of the puzzle for a healthy mental state as an adult. Because of this aspect, adventure roles (such as the captain of a pirate ship or a treasure-hunting explorer) are perfect for thrilling play hours and will do best as unstructured play.
You’ll have a goal, but you can take the game wherever feels organic and natural. This will help kids with story-telling skills and create situations where they’ll have to think on their feet.
Being imaginative with games doesn’t end with wild adventures. Chefs come up with new culinary creations daily in very high-intensity situations. Allowing your child to simulate what it would be like to thrive under pressure will allow them to practice keeping a level head no matter the situation. For an extra level up, use real ingredients for their dishes. This way, they start experimenting with new foods and become more comfortable trying unfamiliar ingredients and expanding their palette.
Create a taco truck or ice cream shop for your children to open and run, and allow them to experiment with wild flavors and inventive specials for the menu. If you’re outside, mud pies whipped up by their playhouse can incorporate sensory experiences into the game.
Learning new skills will come in handy as adults, and encouraging children to experiment with different handy-person role play will help them expand their knowledge base. Fixing things, no matter how small, instills confidence in themselves and their problem-solving abilities.
How To Encourage Dramatic Play
While you may be excited to see what your child can come up with, you may not know where to start to get your kids into the idea of dramatic play.
Here are a few points to consider to help encourage your kids to participate in a dramatic play situation:
Set the Scene
Use props from Halloween, dress-up clothes, and other accessories to set the scene for a dramatic play set. This will help your kids fully immerse themselves in the game and see it through to the end.
Engage In Games
It may be hard for your kids at first to get the hang of dramatic play, so be excited to join in games, especially in the early learning stages of dramatic play.
Encourage Story Writing
If your child prefers a structured scene, they may be trying to resolve issues or complications they’ve faced recently in life. Dramatic play helps them work through those tough problems to reach resolutions they may have been unhappy with prior to their game.
For this reason, help them along the way by encouraging writing stories before playtime begins. They can create the characters, the problems, the options, and inevitably the solution and develop language for their feelings and thoughts they hadn’t known to use before.
Encouraging children to write their own storybook (or helping them with it) can encourage literacy skills as well as fine motor skills (those involved in holding items like crayons and pens).
The Bottom Line
Regardless of the scene you and your little ones set, dramatic play can benefit them in many ways. We are confident these examples are the perfect place to start if you’re looking for inspiration, but we know that once you get started, there’s no telling where your creativity takes you.
- How to Develop and Practice Self-Regulation | VeryWellMind
- Self-Empowerment: 7 Ways to Empower Yourself | Maryville Online
- The 6 Stages of How Kids Learn to Play | Child Development
- Writing with children | Victoria State Government
- Parents' Guide to Structured vs Unstructured Play | Pathways.org
- New study shows that playing with dolls allows children to develop empathy and social processing skills | Frontiers