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




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