Dramatic Play in Early Childhood

Spark Your Imagination…More Ideas for Pretend Play

Throughout this blog, I have talked about the themes for dramatic play only being limited to your imagination. But I also realize that a lot of time we adults need some help getting our imaginations going when it comes to thinking up new ideas continually. I recently found a list of dramatic play themes on a teaching website that has more ideas than I think one adult could ever think up alone.


With pretend play, it is really important to continue to give children new experiences and setups for them to role play and experience. In early childhood classrooms, these new setups are usually done in the dramatic play center. And at home, parents can suggest the ideas/scenarios and provide a few unique props to stimulate children’s dramatic play.


So take a look at this webpage of the many dramatic play themes to see what sparks your imagination! Just take a look at some of the great ideas they have listed for the letters A, B, and C:


Animal shelter
Art gallery
Artist’s studio
Author’s office



Beauty shop
Birthday party
Book Store
Buried treasure/pirate
Bus or train



Candy shop
Car wash
Chinese restaurant
Clown show
Covered wagon


And for each letter of the alphabet, the webpage gives a lot more fun ideas that kids would love enacting as part of a dramatic play activity!



Kohl, M. (2008). Dramatic play centre ideas. Retrieved October 25, 2008 from, http://www.canteach.ca/elementary/drama8.html



A Visual of Playing Pretend at Home

Hopefully, it is now pretty clear how important dramatic play can be for small children both at school and home. The following video shows a little boy named Cristian engaging in pretend play at home. What the video doesn’t outwardly say is that Cristian is on the autism spectrum. Throughout the video, Cristian’s mother interacts with and prompts her son’s play. And while some of Cristian’s actions may or may not be the result of his developmental disability, this is not the important issue to look at here.


What’s really important in this video is to see the immediate interactions and skill/knowledge practice the young child is having while playing pretend. It’s a good visual example of a child engaging in dramatic play at home!




Firewifesadie. (2008, September 21). Cristian cooking & serving mama [Video file]. Retrieved October 13, 2008 from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VtGJ022zUeI

Dramatic Play at Home

The last few posts here have been about dramatic play in early childhood classrooms. But dramatic play is absolutely NOT limited to school! Actually, one of the first and most important places where children begin to experiment with and initiate pretend play is at home.


While early childhood education programs may be an important part of the development of children, remember that they spend much of their first few years at home with their families. This is the environment many children will feel the most comfortable in. For these reasons, it is important to create a positive pretend play atmosphere at home and help children engage in these kinds of play experiences.


Parents, bringing dramatic play into your child’s daily play at home is actually quite simple and fun! Just as with schools, the first step is to make sure your child has enough open-ended and engaging materials to play with. And you don’t have to spend a lot of money on these toys. Everyday household items and old clothes for dress-up are great additions to children’s pretend play experiences. It is also important to let your children experiment with dramatic play, to practice different roles and situations. And of course, why not join in on the fun?! As mentioned in previous posts, there are many advantages to dramatic play in any environment. When parents interact with their children in pretend play scenarios, you get to see those advantages right in front of you and help further your children’s development and learning.


Maybe you are have already integrated dramatic play into your home well and are now just looking for some more ideas. Or maybe you are not sure about pretend play at home yet. No matter, as long as you are giving your children opportunities to explore and play, know that you are absolutely on the right track!


In order to help you get a better sense of dramatic play at home, here is a list of the top ten ways to enhance home-based make-believe play. The list comes from best-child-toys.com, a Texas-based website that describes itself as a “one-stop place for parents looking for guidance to select toys and games”. Despite the URL sounding like a toy company looking to sell products, this website has nothing for sale, but instead just provides suggestions and ideas about play and toys.


First, be your child’s playmates — this is most effective when your children are young. However, let your child be in charge.

Second, if your child is older (more than 4 years of age), arrange a play date so that they can support each other’s dramatic play.

Third, play along if your child creates an imaginative playmate. Usually this playmate has a character which complements theirs. However, draw a line and be firm when your child starts to do something ‘naughty’ and blame this on her imaginative friend.

Fourth, do not intervene with your child’s play. Let their imagination flow.

Fifth, do not interrupt the play even when it’s time for your ‘child-turned-caveman’ to have lunch. Your child can always have lunch in his ‘cave’.

Sixth, provide a space in your home for imaginative play even if this means that your home will not look like a ‘designer home’ for a while. For instance, let your child transform the dining room table into a cave, or let her connect all the coffee and side tables and transform them into a tunnel.

Seventh, read a lot to your children and take them to as many places as you can. After reading, ask stimulating questions to your child, for instance, “What would you do if you were a …..?”. These will provide them with more experience more ideas for pretend play.

Eighth, when searching for a preschool for your child, investigate whether the preschool will support imaginative play.  

Ninth, for older children, consider involving them in theatrical productions or puppet movies.

Tenth, provide your children with many toys which support imaginative play.

The best advice I can give is to not worry about the details of bringing dramatic play experiences into your home. Look at the big picture: does your child have the freedom, space, and materials to play pretend? And how can you continue to encourage this type of play? This top ten list is a great way to look at the big picture of dramatic play at home. After all, remember that pretend play is all a form of play before all else.



Tips to enhance dramatic play. (2007). Retrieved October 24, 2008, from http://www.best-child-toys.com/dramatic-play.html

Think Outside the House

I’ll be honest: most of the dramatic play centers I have seen in early childhood classrooms are setup like a house. In many cases, the setup may even be just a kitchen area, with the standard fake stove, refrigerator, food, and table. Meanwhile, some of these house-themed dramatic play centers go as far as to include dress-up clothes, dolls, and miniature furniture. And while such setups are a great start to a dramatic play center, there should also be variety!


In short, children need rich and varied experiences over time to learn and develop. This goes for dramatic play as much as it goes for any other subject area. A good dramatic play center should be changed fairly regularly (the norm, According to the Literacy and the Youngest Learner text, is every two-three weeks). You may want to change your dramatic play center based on your students’ interests, the themes you are teaching, or just a grand idea you come up with. One inspired teacher I knew used to change her dramatic play center regularly so she wouldn’t get bored; her student’s favorite theme: camp-out, complete with a mesh tent, pretend fire, and a little picnic table.


There are MANY possible themes and setups for a dramatic play center! The important things are that the environment is safe and fitting, with appropriate and assorted materials students can use for active and effectively pretend play.


Some really fun theme ideas and materials to include for dramatic play in early childhood classrooms can be found in Bennett-Armistead, Duke, and Moses’ book Literacy and the Youngest Learner. Some of my favorites from their ideas are:

  • Restaurant: include play food, aprons, chef hat, tables set for dining, play money, cash register, dress-up clothes, menu, cookbooks, order pads and pencils
  • Airplane: include windows that look out onto clouds, chairs in a row, headsets for pilots, steering wheels for pilots (can be just circles of cardboard affixed to a box with brads), small overnight suitcase with dress-up clothes, travel brochures, tickets, in-flight magazines and safety cards, name tags
  • Firehouse: include a phone, small hoses, fire truck created from a box, coats, rubber boots, fire hats, fake extinguisher, fire safety posters, maps
  • Bakery: include natural colored play dough (and some fun colors too!), cookie cutters, rolling pins, small pans, oven, aprons, cash register, play money, price list, cake boxes and cupcake holders, recipe cards
  • Veterinary Clinic: include stuffed animals, medical equipment (stethoscopes, gauze. Band-aids), white doctor coats (small adult button-down dress shirts work well), magazines for waiting room, appointment book, medical charts


So have fun and use your imagination when coming up with dramatic play center themes! Your students surely will when playing in the center!



Bennet-Armistead, V. S., Duke N. K., & Moses, A. M. (2005). Literacy and the youngest learner: Best practices for educators of children from birth to 5. New York: Scholastic.

An Example of What a Dramatic Play Center Can Look Like

Below are some pictures of an early childhood teacher’s dramatic play center. Take a look at the various types of materials and themes she has included for her students!




























Cooper. (2008). Dramatic play center. Retrieved October 19, 2008 from http://coopercornertx.tripod.com/dramaticplaycenter.htm


Dramatic Play Centers in ECE Classrooms

In all early childhood classrooms – daycares, preschools, and kindergartens – dramatic play can have a major role. When children have access to toys and activities that allow for pretend play, they are able to reap the benefits described in earlier postings.


So what does dramatic play actually look like in an early childhood classroom? Most likely, you will see dramatic play as its own interest centers. Most quality early childhood classes will have interest centers throughout the room, each with its own subject, purpose, and supplies. The centers are places where children can explore topics in hands-on and fun ways. Often, dramatic play is integrated into the classroom as one of the interest centers.


As you probably saw in Dr. Horm’s Youtube video, dramatic play centers are often setup around a central theme, such as a home/kitchen or store. The important thing to remember is that the center should have open-ended toys and materials in it, so that children can use their imaginations as much as possible. All of the materials should be appropriate to be used by the children, but still act as a way for children to practice roles and play “pretend”. For instance, fake cash registers and play money are great additions to a dramatic play center setup like a store.


Now you may be thinking of some great ideas of how to stimulate kids to engage in pretend play in an early childhood classroom. Maybe you are thinking of some unique themes or materials that children would have fun playing with in the center. But what’s the next step? Start looking for supplies to populate your dramatic play center!


(Personally, I think sticking to one theme for the center at a time is best so that things don’t get too cluttered and children are able to best focus their attentions. But don’t forget, you can change the center pretty regularly to different themes.)


To start thinking of dramatic play supplies, check out Kaplan’s website. Kaplan is a popular company that specializes in educational products and resources. They have one entire page dedicated to dramatic play toys. And while of course you don’t have to buy from them, their extensive listing of supplies will absolutely get you thinking about the many different kinds of great things to include in a dramatic play center.  


And parents: you can kind many great toys for children to play with at home on this site as well. Remember, children can use their imaginations and play pretend just about anywhere! Home and school are both important environments for children to engage in dramatic play.



 Kaplan Early Learning Company. (2008). Dramatic play activities and supplies. Retrieved October 19, 2008 from http://www.kaplanco.com/activity-dramatic-play.asp


TulsaWorldNews. (2008, August 14). Pretend play – tulsaword.com [Video file]. Retrieved October 13, 2008 from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yMwqMuRtGDs

All About Dramatic Play in Video Form


In this video, Dr. Diane Horm discusses many important issues about dramatic play (which she also calls pretend play). In addition to providing thorough explanations of what pretend play is and why it is important, she outlines good toys to stimulate pretend play in school and at home, and explains the roles teachers and parents should take on with children involved in dramatic play. There is also a discussion of how dramatic play should be integrated into preschools and how such play experiences have a role in children’s academic success.


Not to mention, there are MANY examples of actual children involved in pretend play throughout the video. The examples will provide you with great concrete pictures of the many ways children engage in dramatic play.



TulsaWorldNews. (2008, August 14). Pretend play – tulsaword.com [Video file]. Retrieved October 13, 2008 from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yMwqMuRtGDs

Why Dramatic Play Is Important

By now, you may be asking yourself “What makes dramatic play so important that someone is devoting an entire blog to it? What makes this kind of play so special?”

Well, there are methods to this madness.

For starters, dramatic play is a key way for children to act out situations to gain experiences and better understandings of things around them. So it is a way for children to role play, understand others’ perspectives, problem solve, story tell, develop and foster imagination skills, develop and express feelings and self-confidence, and socialize…just to name a few benefits.

And of course, dramatic play at its core is a way for children to PLAY. And we all know how important play at all levels is important for children to experience!

In early childhood education, a lot of attention is put on child development domains. The domains are the areas in which children develop. The most common domains discussed in early childhood are the physical, cognitive, and social/emotional domains. They are also a great way at looking at the benefits of dramatic play.

To provide an answer as to why dramatic play is important, we can look at these three domains to determine benefits make-pretend play has for each. As Dr. Tammy R. Benson charts on the PBS website, some of the benefits of dramatic play in each domain are:

· Physical: increase in strength, overall fitness, motor skill development, health;

· Cognitive: increase in skills such as problem solving, creative thinking, planning, organizing, language, and overall academic success;

· Social and Emotional: enhanced development of cooperation, sharing, turn taking, less egocentrism, increase in prosocial values and self esteem, practice of appropriate social roles.

So as you can see, dramatic play is a worthwhile activity for all young children!


Benson, T. R. (2004, August). The importance of dramatic play. Retrieved October 13, 2008, from http://www.pbs.org/teachers/earlychildhood/articles/dramaticplay.html

What Is Dramatic Play?

To start with, dramatic play is an important part of early childhood development! As the Center for Best Practices in Early Childhood states on its website, the essence of this type of play involves “the portrayal of life as seen from the actor’s view”. Thus, for young children dramatic play is a fun and authentic way for them to participate in and practice roles that they know on their level. Or to use the Center for best Practices in Early Childhood’s words, it “permits children to fit the reality of the world into their own interests and knowledge.” In doing so, children are able to problem solve, work through conflicts, socialize, gain realistic experiences, and make sense of their environment.

Now that we’ve laid out a technical definition for dramatic play, let’s look at the practical question: what does dramatic play look like? Since dramatic play is an umbrella term that refers to various kinds of play where children act out roles, there are many ways for kids to take part in this experience. Examples include:

  • Setting up a scene (such as a kitchen or store) and playing the roles (pretending to be a parent, worker, etc)
  • Using puppets or dolls to tell a story
  • Using everyday props and dress-up clothes to take on roles they’ve seen
  • playing with toys (such as dolls, cars/transportation toys, play animals) where the child uses them to act out roles or stories

The important thing to remember is that since dramatic play is all about allowing children to use their imagination to come up with ways to role-play and portray life experiences, the possibilities are literally endless! There are so many props and physical arrangements that can extend themselves to dramatic play with young children. In future postings, I will lend some specific ideas about toys and setups that can be used in home and at school.


Center for Best Practices in Early Childhood. (2002, September). Dramatic play allows children to express themselves. Retrieved October 9, 2008, from http://www.wiu.edu/thecenter/art/artexpress/draplay.html


Hi! I’m Steph and am a senior Rowan University in Glassboro, New Jersey. As an Early Childhood Education and Writing Arts dual major, one of the classes I am taking this semester is Writing, Research, and Technology. This blog is a graded requirement for this course.


To make the most out of the project, I have decided to use the technology to research and talk about a big area of interest for me as an Early Childhood major: dramatic play. For young children, dramatic play is a major way for them to practice roles, gain experiences, socialize, and of course play. Because dramatic play – also called make-believe and pretend play – is such an important element in the development of young children, I feel that I should know about the research on the topic and generally what it is all about. So I have created this blog to help others learn about dramatic play with me. Here, I will talk about some of the key elements of this kind of play and provide some ideas to facilitate it with young children both at home and school.


Dramatic play is an important topic for me. The obvious reason is because I am an Early Childhood Education major. As a future teacher, I want to be knowledgeable about topics related to childhood development; this definitely includes how children play! Also, I am currently a nanny for three little boys. From my experiences, I know the basics of dramatic play and have seen it in action. But I want to know more. And in beginning to look up this topic online, I was disappointed about how much I had to dig for quality information. So hopefully I can muddle through all that information to gain a better knowledge-base on the topic and present it all here for you in one place. So parents, teachers, and anyone else interested in child development and dramatic play, jump on in and visit back soon for some great information!