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Dramatic Play: What It Is and Why It’s Important

Nov 5, 2021

What is Dramatic Play?

Have you ever watched kids play dress-up to prepare for an audience with the Queen, or pretend that they’re astronauts headed into space, or leap around the living room without touching the floor because it’s lava? If so, you’ve witnessed dramatic play in action.

What is dramatic play? It’s the kind of play where kids take on roles and act them out as a way of exploring themselves and their surroundings. By pretending to be someone—or something—else, children can learn new ways to express themselves, share thoughts and ideas, and even get in touch with their feelings. Dramatic play is a very important part of childhood development.

What are Childhood Development Stages?

There are three main stages of childhood development. There’s early childhood, which spans birth to eight years old. Next up is middle childhood from 8to 12 years of age, followed by adolescence, which covers ages 12 to 18. Dramatic play is important during the early childhood stage of development, as kids start to grow into themselves more and start to have a greater understanding of their individuality.

What are Types of Dramatic Play?

There are two types of dramatic play. They are:

  • Structured Play: This is the kind of play where there’s a game plan for the kind of play that kids are engaging in. This could mean a teacher or parent has created a scenario that has a definitive end point. For example, maybe they’re shopping at a grocery store, shipping a package at the post office, or buying a bouquet at the flower shop. In these scenarios, there are defined roles that are dictated by the situation, and the play leads to a specific conclusion (for example, completing their purchase at the grocery store).
  • Unstructured Play: This form of dramatic play is more freeform and left up to the kids to choose how they want to play, and how—or even if—it ends. This is where the classic “floor is lava” scenario comes into play, but other examples might be pretend play like being a dinosaur stomping around the living room or using a spoon as a “magnifying glass” while hunting for butterflies in the basement.

Examples of Dramatic Play

  • Young children may engage in dramatic play in a variety of ways, including:
  • Role-playing, such as being the parent to a doll or pretending to be a doctor seeing patients
  • Dressing up, whether putting on their parents’ clothes and shoes, or putting on a costume that was made specifically for them
  • Fixing things like the TV, the kitchen faucet, or the car, offering their diagnoses of the problem and how they can solve it
  • Exploring and adventuring, whether in their own room or the backyard, discovering new creatures and unseen worlds

Why is Dramatic Play Important?

Dramatic play benefits are numerous. In addition to supporting creativity and self-expression, dramatic play can help children learn real life skills and social skills that can serve them throughout their lives, from engaging in dramatic play for toddlers, to playtime in their preschool classroom, and beyond. Technology can also play a part in dramatic play, giving kids an entirely different arena in which to explore themselves and the world around them.

The benefits of dramatic play include:

  • Learning conflict resolution, helping children to learn creative problem-solving skills alongside their peers
  • Exploring self-empowerment, allowing kids the opportunity to make choices, act out their feelings, and find a new connection to themselves
  • Learning math and literacy, particularly in play that includes playing with numbers (like the grocery store game)
  • Blowing off steam, so overly energetic children have another outlet to decompress and have fun
  • Engaging in language development, encouraging kids to express themselves in different ways, whether playing a role or playing as themselves
  • Embracing self-regulation, especially in role-playing where children are expected to fulfill a particular part in the play scenario

How to Encourage Dramatic Play in the Classroom and at Home

There are many ways that educators and parents like you can encourage dramatic play, both in a school setting and at home. For example, you can:

  • Buy some fun clothes from a thrift store and suggest playing dress up at home, encouraging your child to embrace role playing and drive the play narrative
  • Make time for dramatic play in the classroom, using a theme as a guide and giving kids an outline to follow within that theme
  • Engage in your own form of dramatic play at home and encourage your kids to join in, whether it’s opening a pretend restaurant where you make pizza or going hunting for monsters in the house
  • Give students a toy that they must create a narrative around, and break the class up into groups to explore that narrative

It’s important for parents and teachers to collaborate on dramatic play efforts so that each side of the child’s developmental support system is aware of the progress happening both at home and at school. Although many teachers learn about dramatic play while they’re pursuing their degrees, parents might not be as aware of it—and how important it is for early childhood development. By partnering with a teacher who has in-depth knowledge of dramatic play, everyone can collaborate on the themes and approaches that best suit their child.

Although dramatic play can differ from child to child and classroom to home, its results are the same: vibrant, playful children who find strength and comfort in their own self-expression.

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