Dramatic Play for a Child’s Development

By Vanessa Rasmussen

Dramatic play is central to children’s healthy development and learning during the preschool years. It is one of the central ways children work through the important experiences in their lives. A young child’s family and home are the biggest part of his or her world. The imitation of what happens there an in the world around them is the central focus of how children play. Children act out and explore the lives of people by acting out their work, their feelings, and their words.

In early childhood, drama needs no written lines to memorize, structured behavior patterns to imitate, nor is an audience needed. Children need only a safe, interesting environment and freedom to experiment with roles, conflict, and problem solving. Children can switch roles — from animate to inanimate objects — with a blink of an eye. Often childhood is all about the ability to be anything we want without a worry in the world. Carefree, creative dramatic play promotes cognitive development and helps children learn how to share, communicate and cooperate with each other. Through role playing children also learn how to develop empathy for others.

The benefits of play for children’s intellectual growth are numerous. As children play out the situations in their lives (or in their pretend lives), they are met with situations they do not understand. As they approach the situations and attempt to make sense of them in the context of their own lives, they practice problem-solving skills and build new knowledge. Children grow physically as they rearrange (gross motor) the large elements (table, chairs, cradle, etc) of the interest area and as they manipulate (fine motor) contents (food boxes, dolls, clothes, and hats) of the interest area.

Make sure that you provide non-intrusive supervision of children’s free play. While one child may welcome suggestions and comments, another may reject any adult intervention. Be careful not to allow dramatic play to become a “teaching” situation as it will alter the value of the play for the children. The goal is to stimulate play not dominate it.

Prop Boxes may also be used to enhance a theme-based dramatic play centre. Prop boxes might have playthings and some real life items in it which makes it possible for the children to enact a real life situation. For example, a doctor box can have play stethoscope, thermometer, medicines, prescription pads, doctor’s coat, telephone, etc.

Books can also provide children with inspiration for their dramatic play as they recreate and alter stories they have heard or read. Promote understanding of books and other texts by including storybooks, phone books, calendars, cookbooks, newspapers, magazines, and other print materials in the Dramatic Play Area. Encourage children to use these props in their play. Encourage children’s interest in mathematics by offering props such as play money, scales, measuring tapes, cash registers, and calculators. Expand children’s knowledge of life science by including plants in the Dramatic Play Area. Encourage them to be sensible towards the environment by talking about recycling, planting trees and the evils of littering. Talk about various communities, cultures and countries and encourage the children to include related activities in the play.

Copyright 2001, 2004. All rights reserved. Any reproduction of this article in whole or in part without written or verbal permission is strictly prohibited. For information about reprinting this article, contact the copyright owner: Vanessa Rasmussen, Ph.D, Starting a Day Care Center, http://www.startingadaycarecenter.com.

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