I think that role playing is one of the most important things you can do with Kindergartners. We know that most kindergarten children are very egocentric, their world revolves around themselves. When they take on a role they have to step outside of themselves and think from a different point of view. Understanding other people’s point of view is a great way to encourage cooperation. I think role playing is also one of the best problem solving strategies because we also know that young children are very concrete. When they see a problem situation acted out, it becomes more clear to them – and they really liked it when I took on a role of a child who was not making good choices. We also did a lot of role playing when we acted out stories, which is such a great way to enhance comprehension.
The more skillful the children are at role playing, the more beneficial it is to them. Of course role playing is the foundation of Dramatic Play. When I was reading research about Dramatic play it became clear to me that when I was trying to encourage children to get involved in Dramatic play I was focusing on things – I would get out a cash register and play food and expect the children to play Grocery Store; or I would get out stuffed animals and a stethoscope for them to play a Veterinarian’s Office. I realized that in order to play this way the children have to know what the people do – what their role is. I always modeled exactly what I expected children to do, whether we were making a project, going to an assembly, or opening a center. When I modeled I did give them some ideas of the things the people might do, and what they might be saying. But I was looking for more ideas.
I wanted all children in my classroom to have good understanding of how to play at a dramatic play center – I knew that some children come to school with lots more prior knowledge and experiences than others. Field trips provided common experiences for our whole class, so I often tried to set up a Dramatic Play Center after school trips. Before we went I would talk with the children about the workers we might see on the field trip, and brainstormed with them about what the people might be doing. By drawing their attention to the people beforehand, the kids were much more observant about the roles the people were filling, and the vocabulary they were using. When I set up a dramatic play center that went along with the field trip the play was so much richer because the children all had observations and experiences they could act out – and enhance! I loved to see them creatively add to the play too, but if they had no understanding of the place, they really couldn’t engage in the play.
Another way I tried to help the children focus on the roles of people at different places was by making a book that I could read to them. I started out at a restaurant, that happened to be owned by a parent in my class. I wanted to set up a restaurant in my play center, and I wanted the children to know lots of ways they could pretend there.
Here is a printable copy if anyone is interested:
I asked permission before I photographed anyone, it just so happened that one of my school families was eating there that day, and a group of women from my Church too! My husband and son were willing to pose as customers, in exchange for breakfast! I tried to give the children lots of different roles they could play – customer, server, cashier, cook, or bus boy. I gave ideas of the things the people might say and the vocabulary they might need. I read this book to the class before we began setting up a restaurant, and several times before we played there. It really made a big difference in the amount of conversation and type of play at the center.
I made another book before we set up a pretend Grocery Store.
Here is a pdf copy of the Grocery Store Book:
After reading these books to my classes I liked the quality of the play at the dramatic play centers I set up. I decided that the children might need more ideas of what people do at home, the jobs they do and the way they interact; to enhance the play at the Storytelling Cottage. I made another book by taking pictures of my son, daughter in law and grandson doing regular things around their house.
Here is the Home Book:
If you like this idea you could make more books by taking your own photographs and adding simple text that emphasizes the roles the people play and the conversations they have.
While I was working on these I got an idea that I hoped might incorporate more dramatic play into other centers. The children did love to build homes for dinosaurs and animals at the blocks, and they did interact with the cars and vehicles, but I was just trying to give them more ideas and ways to play. I went around our community and took pictures of places that were very familiar to the children, including our school. I printed small copies of these pictures and mounted them on wooden blocks. When I was taking the photographs I actually went around McDonalds and took a picture from the front and from the back, then mounted the pictures on the block on the front and back – so the kids could stand up the block and pretend it was McDonalds. I tried to put varnish over the pictures to make them more durable, but nothing I tried worked very well. I would suggest printing the pictures on cardstock, then mounting them on blocks a little bigger than the picture.
These community blocks turned out to be very popular! The children would use them most often with the cars and trucks or at the Blocks Center.
Here are the ones I made:
These books and blocks did give the children more ideas for how they might play, and what they might say while they were playing, but the most important factor is always teacher involvement. Just the fact that you stop by the center and enter into the play validates its importance to the children. It is so fun to take a role and get involved with the children’s play – but be careful not to take control. You can ask questions, become a character in the play and make a suggestion, and draw in more children by thinking of additional roles so more children can play; but the play has to be controlled by the children.
I hope you are able to have fun playing with your class too!