by Lisa Henderson, B.S. Child Development
The joy of pretending. Children thrive on it. Home daycare providers must ensure that children have an appropriate area to role-play. Providing props is very important. The dramatic play center should NOT always be a “home center.” There is so much more than just a stove, refrigerator, and ironing board for dramatic play. Store those kitchen items in the garage for a few months and dream up some great themes!
How about a camping theme? Set up a small indoor tent, some large rocks (styrofoam) for a campfire, and hang some stars from the ceiling. Set out some METAL dishes, a compass, a flashlight, a couple of small sleeping bags, and watch your campers’ eyes light up!
How about a fishing theme? Make a boat out of cardboard, put some stick/string fishing poles in the boat, hang some fishnet from the ceiling, and throw some plastic fish on a small blue rug under the boat. Include some fisherman’s hats, plastic lures (no hooks!), a tackle box, and a bucket for the fish they catch!
How about a pet store theme? Set up a little kennel, made from cardboard boxes on their sides. Put a variety of stuffed animals into the kennels. Set up a cash register with play money in it. Set up a little grooming area with brushes, pretend shampoo, ribbons for the animals’ hair, and a METAl or plastic tub for animal baths.
How about a restaurant theme? Set up a table complete with fancy place settings (all plastic), plastic clear candle holders, votive candles, cloth napkins, and a tablecloth. Set up a small area for a cook, with pots and pans and utensils. Set up a waiter station, with menus (make during art!), a cloth napkin to hang over arm or belt, and a paper pad for taking orders.
How about a rocket ship theme? Make one from a large cardboard box. Take some old computer parts and glue them to the inside walls. Put some microphones or headphones inside to communicate with “Houston.” Hang planets, stars, and moons from the ceiling (construction paper circles). Provide paper bag moon helmets for the astronauts.
Here are some other dramatic play area theme ideas: Circus, Zoo, Train, Grocery Store, Dad’s/Mom’s Office, School, Toy Store, Christmas in July, and Beach.
You can provide full dress-up items for any theme, but it really isn’t necessary. A few props go a long way. Many props can be made easily. Others could be donated/loaned by your daycare families. I once had a family loan us their crawling tunnel for a week, and we used it to pretend we were spelunking (cave exploring). I added some plastic helmets, and taped orange juice can lids to the front of the helmets for the “lights.” I provided flashlights and hung plastic bats. We turned the real lights down low and had a great time!
The clearer your theme is, the less adult direction is needed in the dramatic play area. Children naturally want to role play. It is necessary for them, to allow them to try to understand how the world works in relation to them. By varying your dramatic play area, you will draw children into it more often. Children learn by experiencing and re-enacting what goes on around them. Give them the opportunity to explore things they see and hear about. Have fun and use your imagination!