Dramatic play can take place anywhere children are – it really doesn’t take a special area or equipment. Dramatic play involves children who take on a role and relate to other people and things as if they, too are something different than they really are. Sometimes children pretend to be in a different time or space. One definition is that Dramatic play is “the process by which children represent themselves in imagined situations.”
It is really helpful if you decide with your class what to call this type of play – pretend play? Imagination Station? Dramatic play? If you give the children vocabulary for it, you validate this kind of play and encourage children to participate. I often set up different dramatic play centers based on seasonal things or what we were studying at the time, but when you encourage the children to decide what kind of play center to set up they get very involved and really excited. Sometimes I would decide on a basic idea and ask the children what we would need to set it up, we used interactive writing to make a list of things we needed, then the children went back and checked off things we already had in the classroom and things they might make or pretend to have.
Here are some ideas of different play centers you might like to try:
And a printable copy:
I was always amazed at how my children initiated so much reading and writing into their play. Whenever I could I provided information books for the children to look through about the topic they were playing. At the beginning of the year I always asked parents if they had access to any old business letterhead stationery, or ncr (no carbon required) blank forms, or any other type of business paper that the children might like to use. I bought several sizes of clipboards that the children often used when they were playing – to fill out prescriptions at the doctor’s office, write down a customer’s order at a restaurant, or write a traffic ticket. They also loved to make signs like OPEN and CLOSED. They also made menus and price tags, labels, traffic signs, their own pretend money, store hours signs, whatever they could think of that they had seen in the real world.
When I provided a few simple forms or props it often encouraged the children to do even more writing.
I made a different stamp for each month of the year – we actually used these next ideas at the writing center when children wanted to write to each other or their families. You can reduce these in size for children to glue onto their postcards and notepaper, or just post one at the writing center and tell them to copy it! Of course you could use rubber stamps too, but that sometimes gets messy if you leave out an ink pad.
I brought in post cards and showed the children how they have a picture on one side and writing on the other. This gave them a reason to learn their address and encouraged them to write. I used these at the writing center, and when I set up a Travel Agency or a specific location play center like Hawaii or Mexico.
These were little note cards I used like the post cards. I cut this in half and then folded it in half the other way. The To/From and Stamp were on the outside, the note went on the inside.
Here are a few more writing things that I used with different play centers.
Here are printable copies:
Here are some pictures of different play centers that my children enjoyed.
One year we had a Fireman visit our classroom, so the children decided to set up a Fire Station at the play center. I brought in a short piece of cut-off garden hose and a couple of plastic Fireman hats. The children wanted a fire hydrant, so a parent helped them cover up a plastic gas pump that I had. The rest of the props were from around the classroom, or created by the kids.
Benchley made a great Fire truck. The children drew large apartment style houses on roll paper and I taped it around our large magnetic board. Then they made flames from red and orange paper and I gave them magnetic tape to stick on the back of the fire.
Of course we needed several telephones from our Story Telling Cottage so the distressed people could call the Fire Department.
This play center was such a wonderful equalizer. The little guy with the hose had some developmental delays and really did not interact well with the other children until they were playing here. He also had delayed speech and motor issues, but he joined into this play and actually took some leadership! It was so fun to watch him blossom because he was struggling through so much of our day.
There was a red jacket in our dress up clothes that they grabbed as a uniform. My classroom was not very large, all this play occurred in a pretty small space. The clothespin on the little girl’s shirt was part of my Center Chart – to regulate how many children could play in each area.
Sometimes I began the year with a pretend school, other times with a Doctor’s Office because most children had some familiarity with that.
I liked to make little valance curtains to go along with play centers that we used every year. I had a play doctor kit, but we also had empty pill bottles, cotton balls, ACE bandages, etc. The alphabet letters were a pretend eye chart – great excuse to practice letter ID! We usually used a Teddy Bear as a patient.
Playing restaurant was also very popular. I had the children made their own place mats, menus and signs.
We had to set up a table outside the play center for the customers. The girls are wearing aprons that I bought from a craft store. I had lots of these and sometimes I had parents draw on them with permanent markers to fit into certain careers – there was a Dr. one with a stethoscope drawn on, Cashiers with money on them, etc. The aprons have a pocket that is handy for a pencil and small pad of paper too – prescription pads, restaurant orders, etc.
For our Transportation unit I made cars out of Xerox paper boxes, the children made Driver’s licenses that they carried in their wallets.
I bought plastic visors for the Police Officers, who did safety checks on the vehicles. The kids made lots of STOP and YIELD signs, traffic signals, etc.
Around Valentine’s Day we often set up a Post Office. They created cards at the Writing Center.
They found a small fabric tote bag to use as a mail bag. I made a Mailman hat out of construction paper. I bought a cardboard divided shoe box that had spaces for about 24 pairs of shoes. I set that on its side and the children sorted the mail into these slots. I asked parents to send in old holiday cards from all kinds of holidays and they children cut them up to make new cards. I sometimes asked for junk mail too – so they had envelopes and letters to sort.
Sometimes our Dramatic play was not limited to the play center. Each year we went on a “Safari.” I will be sharing more about this in the spring.
I’m not sure you can see it in the picture but the children each made a camera that they used to take pictures on the safari.
We also played Pirates sometimes.
I loved the Hooks made from a styrofoam cup and clothespin hook from a Dollar Store.
When we talked about Cowboys I turned the play center into a jail. They made handcuffs by tying two bracelets together with yarn. We had a big discussion about how to play safely here!
We also “milked a cow” using a rubber glove filled with water. I cut a pinprick hole in the fingers.
And of course we rode horses.
One of my favorite play centers all year was Mission Control when we were learning about Outer Space.
I made a rocket ship from an old refrigerator box. I spray painted it and added letters cut from Contact Paper. We used it for over 20 years!!!! I made the helmet from a large ice cream tub. They had air tanks from 2 large soda bottles that were taped together with straps to wear them on their backs.
For many years we made the planets from paper mache, but at the end of my teaching I bought some inflatable planets that I hung up. When I taught 2 classes of kindergarten it was fun to make the planets, but that is a lot of paper mache for one group of children. We still did a paper mache project every year though.
My husband built a little pyramid shaped board and attached all kinds of knobs and dials for the Mission Control board. I gave the children old listening center headphones, they couldn’t really plug into the board though.
This center was wonderful for encouraging the children to count backward from 10-0, which was part of our math curriculum!
I just loved listening to the children playing here. The “astronaut” in the rocket would be reporting back to Mission Control. They would be asking questions about what he could see in space. They had learned a couple of facts about each planet and it was so fun to hear them talking – “I can see the rings around Saturn! Wait!! I think those rings are bits of ice and rock!” or “Mars sure looks hot today!” and “I can see the storm on Jupiter! I think I can count at least 16 moons!”
Research shows that children use a much higher level of vocabulary when they are acting out roles. I loved how they incorporated reading and writing, and how creative they were making and adding props to each play center. I know that lots of administrators are forcing “time on task” and “core academics.” They also need to see and hear how many skills the children are initiating and practicing during dramatic play. One of the keys to motivating young children is to make school fun and engaging every child. It is so rewarding to see every child feeling self confident and successful. I really love dramatic play – I hope you do too!