Dramatic Play in Early Childhood

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.


Trackbacks & Pingbacks


  1. * Susan Bennett-Armistead says:

    Thanks for encouraging readers to get creative with their centers. I think teachers often underestimate how connected to building real world concepts pretend play is. While so very many of our children are coming to us with fewer experiences (other than tv and video games) pretending to be a pizza maker, diver or pilot can stretch their concepts into new arenas…building vocabulary and better preparing them for academic experiences later. I have a new book coming out, Literacy Building Play, that builds on the dramatic play ideas presented in Literacy and the Youngest Learner. I hope you find it useful!

    Posted 9 years, 4 months ago

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