Like most Kindergarten classrooms I had a Housekeeping area in my room. I wanted to define a space in my room for this so my husband built me a special little house. I know – I am spoiled.
The two sides have hinges, so I could make the center larger or smaller depending on my space. On the inside I had shelves on one side, and hooks on the other for dress up clothes. Later I removed the hooks and put furniture against that wall on the inside. This little house fit well into a corner of my room, but sometimes I had it against a wall of cupboards.
The way I introduced and used this center changed through the years, and eventually I ended up referring to it as Storytelling Cottage. I found that when we just called it a house, or housekeeping – the kids would go there and put on dress up clothes but not really act out roles. When I changed the name to Storytelling Cottage I emphasized that they would be pretending to be somebody, and they would be doing something that person would do. I encouraged them to pretend that there was a problem they had to solve. It went along well with our study of story elements – characters, setting, problem and solution.
I could have easily been called the Queen of Stuff. I loved collecting and buying and making all kinds of things for my classroom. I wanted realistic food and special dishes and metal silverware. But I found out that the more stuff I had at this center, the less the children engaged in complex play. They just put on clothes and dumped out food and dishes, then walked out. The most common role play was for the kids to act like dogs or cats and chase each other. When I limited the amount of food and dishes, and alternated a few dress up clothes, the children got more involved in the roles they were playing. Sometimes I would temporarily add things like magazines and newspapers, scarves and boots in winter, holiday decorations, a shopping cart, etc. Again, I wouldn’t give them lots of stuff – just a few things to encourage them to use their imagination.
I limited this center to no more than 4 children at a time. I also labeled the baskets for food and dishes, and places for shoes and clothes to encourage the children to clean up independently.
Every year the boys enjoyed this center just as much as the girls. The best thing I added to this center was old cell phones. The children loved playing with them, and it really encouraged great conversation!
I love the way children interact with the furniture and families at a doll house, but my space was very limited. One time I saw a large doll house in a children’s museum that was really a narrow bookshelf. I sketched out my idea to make a little dollhouse this way and my wonderful husband built that for me too! It was only big enough for two children at a time, but they had lots of space to move the families around, and play imaginatively with them. I ordered the wooden furniture from a catalog and a parent made some little rugs.
When I was working on my Master’s degree I saw a picture of a bench with a steering wheel in a Kindergarten classroom. I sent my husband off to an old car dump to get a steering wheel, and he created “Benchley.”
About 4 children could straddle Benchley and ride together. This was one of my very favorite things in my classroom. Sometimes the children pretended it was a school bus, sometimes an airplane, or boat, or car – it was very flexible! I loved the cooperation and negotiation of who would “drive” and when it was someone else’s turn. They used the box on the front to carry everything from bears, to dolls to cell phones.
I also wanted a place in my room to set up dramatic play centers that I could rotate and change. I didn’t want to give up my Storytelling Cottage to set up McDonalds or a doctor’s office – so my husband designed and built a playcenter for me.
As always I wish I had known I would do this blog – I don’t have great pictures, but this gives you an idea of what it was like. The bottom of the play center was about 4 foot square. The back had an opening to step into it, and there was a ladder on one side to climb up to the top. At the time we had remodeled our kitchen and had a piece of laminated counter from the end of our kitchen island that he added as a shelf that extended out of the front. I used this play center as a place to set up different play experiences. Often I let the children help choose what to turn it into.
We used the top of the play center as a library. The only choice up there was to “sit on your bottom” and read books. The sides were not high enough to keep children from falling if they stood up, I didn’t add the ladder until I was sure I could trust the children to ONLY sit and read up there. I never had a safety issue with this, but I took off the ladder if I knew preschoolers would be visiting the room. The children loved going up there to read, and it motivated some of them to choose to read at center time.
Here is another view:
Please do not feel that you can’t have a wonderful dramatic play center in your classroom without special houses and play centers. Although my centers were wonderful and very cute, they were not essential to the whole process of dramatic play. You can turn any corner or table or refrigerator box into a wonderful play space. I do think you need to dedicate a specified place in your room to dramatic play if you really want to encourage children to interact this way. The children are really imaginative and helpful in choosing what they would like to play – it can go along with a holiday or theme, or field trip – or it can just be something they care about. You can also turn it into a class research project, finding out what is in a Dentist Office, etc. There are lots of informational books that are written for young children.
The Block Center and the Art Center are also great places to encourage Dramatic Play – after the children build or create something they will often start to play with their creation, if they have enough time. These centers lead naturally to great conversation and interaction between the children.
Adding a few props, and changing them occasionally also encourages new ways to play.
Almost any center in your room can turn into a dramatic play experience. The children would often go to the writing center or the art center to make props to use in a dramatic play center that we had set up in the room.
I left behind my Storytelling Cottage and Play Center when I retired so more children could benefit from this kind of play. I brought home the doll house and Benchley though – and my grandson is enjoying those. Oh – and my husband who built it all, I’m keeping him too!