Pretend Play. Dramatic Play. Likely these are some of the first terms you encountered when learning to teach in a childcare setting. Children pretending, acting, and vocalizing the world around them is certainly not a recent concept. What has changed however, is how we as early childhood teachers can support this type of play. Early in my career, the dramatic play center was perhaps a few pieces of kitchen furniture, plastic food, and oversized dress shirts and neckties. As we learn from the ECERS-3 though, this interest center must go beyond furniture and costumes. Below I will outline important factors for a successful dramatic play center, as well as discuss the role of the teacher while the center is available to students.
Space is the first factor to consider when creating a dramatic play interest center. The area must be large enough to allow for child-sized furniture, props, dress-up clothing, storage for smaller items, and multiple children to move freely. Boundaries must be clearly defined, as it is typical for children to be quite active during role play and may become so involved, they are less aware of their immediate surroundings. If three children are permitted in the center at one time, there must be enough props and space for all of them to interact. Labeling the space will keep the center more organized. Clear storage bins with photos of contents placed on the outside will not only allow children to find items that encourage their play, but also allow for a more efficient clean-up process. Items should be within the child’s reach while they are in the center.
A successful dramatic play interest center also includes a variety of items, because these items will promote more role play. Children act out the world around them to help them to better understand. More props and dress-up items will encourage more meaningful play. If children are given longer amounts of time in the center, their role play will become more involved. As children develop in their play, more listening and talking will be evident in the interest center. More diversity in the props provided will assist in children learning more about the world. A small cane or crutch, for example, might spark a conversation of why some people may need assistance to walk. Foods of different cultures can be represented, making them more familiar to children.
As a teacher, providing the space, props, and time for children to learn through dramatic play is crucial. However, to elevate the potential for learning in this center, teachers must also be involved while play is happening. While children initiate the play, teachers interact with the children and guide them without direct instruction on what the children should do. Teachers can support children by introducing new vocabulary, asking questions, and suggesting ways to add to the play. If children are acting out a store scenario, the teacher could provide paper and markers for sale signs or labels. Often children work through emotional issues through dramatic play, and a teacher who listens and encourages appropriate reactions can help a child develop socially and emotionally.
Children will always have a desire to play make-believe. In the childcare setting, providing a large space, an appropriate quantity of props, a variety of materials, and teacher encouragement will lead to an interest center that allows children to develop multiple areas of learning and a better understanding of their world.