Why is dramatic play important for children? Why encourage make believe? Why is having a nicely stocked dress up trunk with costumes and props more than just a fun and fantastic idea for any house with young children and every pre-school classroom? Let’s dig into these questions here today… and find out why dramatic play is important!
First we’ll look at the question “What Is Dramatic Play?”, then we’ll talk about “Benefits of Dramatic Play”, and finally we’ll look at what kinds of resources help encourage dramatic play!
What Is Dramatic Play?
EarlychildhoodNEWS.com author Marie E. Cecchini writes the following about Dramatic Play, and I think it’s the best definition I’ve seen yet:
Dramatic play can be defined as a type of play where children accept and assign roles, and then act them out. It is a time when they break through the walls of reality, pretend to be someone or something different from themselves, and dramatize situations and actions to go along with the roles they have chosen to play. (Full article HERE.)
Dramatic play can look like many different things! There’s no one defining way for your kids to “do dramatic play”. It can, but doesn’t have to, include role playing real or make-believe personalities, dressing up and playing with props and costumes, assuming different names, ethnicities, genders, ages, and more… but it always means FUN, and always includes some form of pretending.
Here are just a few examples of dramatic play:
- Playing “house”. Dramatic play centers could be a play kitchen with dishes, cutlery, and play food. Or, a doll’s bedroom, complete with bassinet, change table equipped with small diapers, etc. Or, a laundry station and clothes line with pins to hang up articles of clothing, etc.
- A library setting. Kids can pretend to be the librarian, the story hour leader, or the patron, performing the rolls of advising, checking out, or fostering a love of books.
- A garage or work-shop. Children can pretend that they are mechanics or carpenters, using play tools and equipment to fix “broken” cars and trucks or build things.
- A Veterinarian clinic. Some stuffed animals, blankets, a small inspection table, and a collection of doctor’s tools makes a fantastic dramatic play center for compassionate kids.
- Playing “Store”. Kids love to pretend to buy and sell things – whether they are the sales person and cashier or the shopper, handling money and that awesome cash register is always a hit.
- Playing Superheros or Princesses: Children are GREAT at coming up with a story line (often similar to a book they’ve read or movie they’ve seen), and adapting it to their imaginative play, especially if they have some great superhero or princess costumes!
What Are Benefits of Dramatic Play For Children?
So much of dramatic play involves decision making – creative decisions, that is. “Where should I land my space rocket on this bumpy moom?” “How can the princess get free from the dragon?” “What will we serve for dinner at our restaurant?” “How can we firemen put out that HUGE fire?” While the little ones are playing, their little minds are running BIG time. They are having a great time playing, but really, they are also practicing the oh-so-important skill of creative problem solving. A skill that will grow more and more valuable as they mature.
Practicing Social Interaction
When children are presented with the tools for dramatic play and the playing begins, there is a ton of social interaction that also begins amongst them. Dramatic play encourages the practicing of social skills such as interactive decision making, cooperation, negotiation, and compromise. These are skills that will help a child his or her whole life.
Let’s look at an example. Say there’s a doctor kit and a medical jacket (like THIS doctor role play set, for example) in the dress up box that looks new and exciting. The children will have to decide out what to do with them. Will they pretend to be doctors? Or nurses? Or veterinarians? Are they playing hospital, or doctor check-ups? Who will be the doctor and who the patient? Will they take turns? And the decisions go on.
Learning to View Things From Different Perspectives
Children are by nature ego-centric, that is, they are the center of their own universe. Dramatic play encourages them to step outside of the “me” mentality just a little bit. Learning to really assume the role of another character can be difficult at first for some, but kids quickly get the hang of it.
One way to get them started is to think of one of their favorite show characters (Superman, Dora the Explorer, Princess Elsa)… and play act that they are that character. Calling him by that name, devise a scenario for him to play act out… like “Oh, Superman, my puppy is lost! I know you can fly! Can you do something super-amazing to find him quickly??” And then hand the ball, so to speak, to him, and see what happens!
Growth in Understanding of Others
Role playing builds empathy for others. When children assume the identity of another character, they learn that other people have feelings and ideas too!
An example here would be two girls playing “Mommy and Child”, where Mommy doesn’t let Child do something that might hurt her (ie., put her hand into the “oven” because “it’s hot, you’ll get hurt”). Or, children playing “Farm”, and the farmer is sad because his hens aren’t laying any eggs that day, or because the storm ruined his crops.
Enhancing of Vocabulary
Another reason why dramatic play is important is that when children are busy with dramatic play, it inevitably leads to a growth in their vocabulary. They learn the names of objects related to the “game”, the process involved in playing it (how that center works), and more!
Take the example in the picture. In this Optometrist Dramatic Play Center, the children there learn how to use words such as optometrist, glasses, frames, lenses, fitting, eye chart, and more!
What Are Resources That Will Help You Encourage Dramatic Play?
The internet is full of ideas to help you build an amazing environment. I’d highly recommend you check out Pinterest for dramatic play ideas – it’s a great resource for ideas for dramatic play props, preschool dramatic play centers, dress up costumes, and the like there! (Oh, and Follow KidsLoveDressUp while you’re there!)
Dramatic play becomes appealing to children when you change up the props, play areas, and costumes regularly! Consider not putting everything you have out at once – swapping items throughout your school year (if you’re a teacher) saves your classroom budget AND keeps things “new” for your kids. New = exciting, remember? And if you’re a parent, the same applies… sometimes tucking something away for a while and then reintroducing it at an opportune time is the best thing you can do for your kids’ play!
This website here, Kids Love Dress Up, is all about the Dressing Up part of dramatic play. While costumes and accessories are not a vitally necessary part for great dramatic play, they do help children really get into character and really make it a lot of fun!
While this site is full of ideas, and I encourage you to browse around the categories, here are a few pages I’d recommend you check out if you’re considering what sorts of costumes to add your Dramatic Play dress up clothes collection:
- Boys Costumes: Role Playing “When I Grow Up” – roles that are more generally known as “for boys” (both genders can TOTALLY enjoy these costumes, though!)
- Little Girls Dress Up Clothes: 10 Inspiring “When I Grow Up” Costumes – roles that are more commonly perceived as “for girls” (again, both genders can enjoy playing with most of them).
- Our Home Page: Check out the up-to-date lists of pages on this website! From princess gowns to superhero costumes, from specific character costume collections to accessories pages, there’s something that will probably catch your eye!
Thanks for visiting! Do YOU have anything to add to “Why Dramatic Play Is Important for Children”? I’d love to hear from you about your experiences with dramatic play with the children in your lives! Do you have memories of dress up play and creative play from your own childhood to share?
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