I think it is well known amongst early childhood education teachers and parents how pretend play can encourage development amongst children. Dramatic play can be defined when children accept pretend roles and act out these roles using their imagination. Benefits of dramatic play, to name a few, include the development of language skills, improving social skills, emotional development, communication and negotiation skills and development of abstract thinking through children using their imaginations and role play.
But what are some practical ways we can encourage dramatic play at home, in early childhood settings and schools?
Set up an inviting space that stimulates wonder and curiosity.
Instead of suggesting children play princesses or some other game (though is may be okay too) why not let the environment you set up encourage children’s curiosity and wonder and where children lead the imaginative play. An effective strategy could be as easy as setting up a corner with some simple props (inside or outside). If done well this could provide just the right setting to encourage exploration and imaginative play. For example, setting up a bamboo teepee surrounded by plants with a few ‘crowns’ and other fabrics could provide endless dramatic play opportunities. Or why not place a play cash register (with some pretend bank cards and pieces of play fruit with some chalk-boards and chalk outside on a wooden crate. This provides opportunities for role-play as well as encourages an interest in writing.
Provide interesting materials that encourage pretend play.
For example, set up an overhead projector or light on a table behind a sheet canvas with some puppets to create interesting stories using shadows. Or set up a pop up theatre. This could be by simply using boxes and cutting out a frame or more elaborate set up with curtains. Check out these cool ideas on Pinterest.
Model dramatic play.
If the children in your care are not used to imaginative role play, why not get in on the action (without dominating play). For example, picking up a pot and say something like “ Hmmm this looks interesting. I wonder what we could make?” Once the child catches on then follow their lead.
Marry drama with other content disciplines eg. Drama and Maths.
One of my favourite thing to do as a teacher is to use drama to teach other concepts. For example, in my classroom with 5-6 year olds I have created a place called “Imagination Land.” I have used this as a platform to teach maths. For example, I begin with finding an unopened envelope/ letter (that I previously wrote to my class) on my ‘teacher seat’. The letter is from a character that lives in Imagination Land who has some sort of problem he needs help from the children in my class. For example, Backpacker Ben or Backpacker Beck asks children for help locating his/her lost backpack. The children are more than willing to help! They are extremely enthusiastic about going to Imagination Land. This could be used to teach location/positional words. I have the luxury of my teacher aid minding the class while I quickly dress up as the character with the problem. If you are interested in finding out more about how you can do this check this out. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o0u16p4wyoE
I have also dressed up as a character (Australian farmer from 1935) in Year 3 to tell the students of my ‘great idea’ to introduce cane toads to the cane fields to stop the cane beetles. It is amazing to see how even older children love a good drama and how students’ level of engagement are increased. As you can see I am a bit of a drama freak.
Most of all, I think it is so important to enjoy the children and enjoy yourself. Don’t get too serious! Laugh with the children. Set up environments that promote fun and stimulate imagination. It is your joy as the parent or educator that allows children to relax and enjoy dramatic play.
Please check out some of my wife’s simple resources and props that stimulate dramatic play in our Drama Nook. She has some beautiful hand-made crowns that are perfect for dramatic play at home or in Early Learning Centres.
About the Blogger: Jon Northwood
I have been teaching in Early Childhood settings for over 15 years including Early Learning Centres and lower primary school. I am currently teaching fulltime in Prep in QLD and absolutely love seeing children engage in learning through using their imagination and having fun! I have experience teaching in South Korea, NSW and QLD. I have a Bachelor of Teaching (Early Childhood) and finally got around to finishing my Masters of Primary (Education) in 2012. I have always been passionate about teaching young children, as the positive impact you can have on young children is life long. I also enjoy working with parents as we embark together on an exciting journey of learning together.