Playing make-believe or role playing comes naturally to most kids, and they are often found switching in and out of their imaginary games with little effort. Far from just a cute display of childishness, these types of dramatic play are vital in helping children to exercise their imaginations, and aid in the overall physical, cognitive, and social development of children. Moreover, it goes a long way in helping kids forge identities and preferences of their own, in a safe environment, and gives them a taste of real world experiences. There are many ways in which parents and teachers can help to promote dramatic play; primarily, through establishing a creative area for this type of play, supplying a variety of costumes and props, and asking guiding questions to encourage exploration and discovery.
Whether at home or in a classroom, a dramatic play area can be set up with minimal effort. Stringing up a few decorations or furnishing it with kid-size seats and tables can help to establish a basic, yet versatile, setting for many make believe situations. Another idea is to collect a few large, empty boxes. Kids have such active imaginations that even a large, cardboard box can morph from a boat to a secret cave to a treasure chest in mere minutes! Kids can get even more involved in preparing their dramatic play area by helping to decorate the boxes.
In terms of adding props to a dramatic play area, just about anything goes, as long as it is safe and kid-friendly. One way to get started is by collecting items that may belong to a specific theme. For example, if the kids wish to play 'camping,' put together a collection of items, such as a rope and large bed-sheet to create a tent, flashlights, a picnic basket and so on. Ask the kids to help by brainstorming which materials they might need if they were going camping, or to a restaurant, depending on the theme. Print and cut out word cards to use as signs as well. In terms of costumes, funny hats, old clothing or swathes of fabric can be wonderful to help create new ensembles. Keeping a large designated chest or box of props and costumes is a great addition to any dramatic play area, since the items will be readily available and can be neatly stored away for future use.
Don’t underestimate kids when it comes to dramatic play. Remember that everyday situations that most adults take for granted are still a source of mystery and wonder to many kids. Some common situations that children enjoy exploring through dramatic play might include: restaurants, the doctor’s office, grocery shopping, running a store, post office, or even a re-creation of a miniature kitchen. On a more fantasy-based level, spaceships or magical lands can also be lots of fun to explore.
Parents and teachers can learn a lot by noting how children act and interpret things during dramatic play. One way to help broaden their imagination and understanding is to introduce new situations for them to dramatize. It is equally important to also monitor how they communicate with their peers and how each child tests out different social roles in the dramatic play area.
When introducing kids to dramatic play, remember that they are extremely adaptable in creating imaginary games. Parents and teachers can help to steer them in certain directions or introduce various topics into their play. This is a great way to ensure that children continue to develop in a happy, healthy manner; though it it important to note that adult interference should be kept to a minimum, so as to allow children to let their imaginations soar.