I absolutely love dramatic play. In fact, I love all kinds of play! That is almost a radical thing for a Kindergarten teacher to say anymore! But I sincerely believe that SUPPORTED play is one of the ways children learn best! I know that Kindergarten has changed a lot – expectations are higher, children are required to reach more benchmarks – teachers are required to spend large blocks of time on academic subjects, we have Reader’s workshop, Writer’s Workshop, sometimes math and social studies are being taught in a workshop form too. We are responsible for direct instruction, differentiated instruction, small group instruction, interventions and one on one assessments! I don’t disagree with any of this – we need as many avenues as possible to reach every child and help them be successful. But play fills a very important role too.
There is a lot of great research on the benefits of play. One of the most important things children gain is in oral language. Research shows that children use higher vocabulary, more variety of sentence structure, and in general higher levels of conversation during dramatic play. Another wonderful benefit of play is that it is a great way to help children develop self regulation – waiting for a turn, sharing materials, asking questions, modifying their own behavior, imitating positive behaviors – positive peer influences. I think one of the reasons play has lost favor in lots of schools is because some administrators view it as a break for the teacher – when the children are playing they catch up on email or write a note to parents, or prep an activity. The teacher’s involvement in play really makes a big difference.
There are so many social benefits too – every child is successful during play – and that can be a huge boost in self esteem for children who struggle in other areas. Children also develop empathy, solve problems, take on other perspectives – so many wonderful skills!!
I will be talking more about play because I think it is so important – but one of the most important things about play is that it brings FUN to the classroom!
During our transportation unit I turned one of my dramatic play areas into a Driver’s Training School. I posted traffic signs around it – ONE WAY, STOP, YIELD, etc. Then I spray painted xerox paper boxes and cut a hole in the bottom, attached margarine containers for lids (with brad fasteners) and straps – to make “cars” for the children to drive.
I also supplied visors that I bought from a dollar store and labeled POLICE. When I set up a new dramatic play center (often chosen by the children) I always modeled and discussed how they might play – but they usually just took off on their own. The Police Officer’s job was to do safety checks on each vehicle – they had a simple form I laminated to check the windshield wipers, turn signals, headlights, etc. Then they could issue a Driver’s License to the other child.
I changed this form sometimes to tell the name of our school and they wrote in their telephone number. I always provided a xerox of their photograph too.
Of course if they had a license, they needed a wallet to put it in.
I really did not have a very large classroom – the children “drove” the cars around the play center in a small space. The police also issued Safe Driver Awards or tickets. For safety and sanity I had to restrict speeding tickets and reckless driving tickets – but they sometimes gave a ticket for not stopping at a stop sign, going the wrong way on a one way street, etc.
Tana Hoban’s book was a great addition to this center!
This often led to children creating their own signs to add to the center. Of course they usually wanted to make money for their wallets too – I encouraged them to look at real money (xeroxed copies) when they were making their own!
Here are the masters
Another dramatic play tool that was always part of my classroom was a long red bench with a steering wheel on one end. My husband built this for me and I loved seeing all the ways the children incorporated it into their play.
It was long enough for 3 or 4 children to straddle at the same time. It changed from a car to a bus to a train to a plane… but the best part was listening to what the kids were saying as they played.
When I first added this to the classroom the kids often used the box on the front to carry their “car phone.” Now, of course they all pretend to have cell phones – and I do have a supply of outdated used ones as props too.
If you have not done much with socio-dramatic play, I would really encourage you to give it a try. The children love it so much, and there are so many ways to tie it into your curriculum!