Monday, 21 March 2016

The Importance of Dramatic Play in Kindergarten

Dramatic play or imaginative play has a very important role in any child’s development, from a very early age. Nowadays, children get to socialize with others less and less, partly because of the very strict daily schedule at kindergarten, and partly because of technology. When I was a kid I remember spending a lot of time in our backyard, with all the other children in my neighborhood. We had plenty of time to socialize, imagine fun scenarios and roles for each other, negotiate and create game rules. Now, most teachers are under stress because of standardized testing, and don’t allocate enough time for center play because they have a very tight schedule. Furthermore, parents seem more busy and preoccupied, and they sometimes prefer to leave the children in front of the TV or a tablet. But children need to explore their environment more, to learn about how the world works, and they can do that through dramatic play.

Here are some of the benefits of dramatic play:
· it develops children’s creativity - it’s a form or creative play
· it’s something that comes naturally to kids, that they choose to do
· it helps kids make sense of the world around them
· it’s engaging and fun
· it’s process oriented
· it improves problem solving, reasoning skills, and the kids practice following directions and communicating needs
· it develops cooperation among peers
· it helps develop children’s understanding of how the world functions
· it will help kids learn to read social cues – verbal and non-verbal
· it develops symbolic thinking (children assign roles, imagine that their props are specific things they need, interpret language and gestures)
· it provides emotional nourishment
· dramatic play develops language, literacy, numeracy, and many others skills
· it will get children more eager to learn
· it helps create positive relations among peers

In their first years, children’s dramatic play usually involves assigning roles to different objects, for example pretending that a block is a telephone, that they have ice cream in the plastic cone, etc. After the age of two-three (depending on the individual), children start interacting more and more with the others. The later stages of dramatic play are social: kids communicate their needs, create rules, assign roles, read social cues, etc.

As teachers, educators, and parents, we should find the time to engage children in dramatic play, but also give them space to let them make their own decisions. The optimal context for learning is child controlled. If the teacher is always there to correct or intervene, the children are deprived of the opportunity of learning from the others and of understanding social norms on their own.

Dramatic play centres provide many opportunities to learn and it’s very important for every teacher to find the space and time for dramatic play. I know that it’s easier said than done, because most of us (especially those who teach in the U.S.) have a very tight daily schedule and can’t afford to let children play for more than 15-30 minutes at a time. But you can find ways to teach math, literacy, and even science through dramatic play. That’s the best part about working in Finland – teachers are free to decide what and when to do, and playtime is a must.

Are you wondering how to create a dramatic play centre?

First of all, make sure to allocate enough daily time for dramatic play. Although some parents might not like that math and science activities are replaced by playtime, make sure they understand the benefits of dramatic play. You can document children’s learning through play by taking photos and writing explanations, specific skills they are working on. Furthermore, you can invite parents to come and observe the children’s games. If you see that the kids enjoy a theme a lot, you can encourage parents to play at home too, even take home some kits and props. In time, the benefits of dramatic play will be clear to them.

Secondly, find a suitable place for the center somewhere in your classroom. The space should fit 4-6 children at a time.

I suggest a corner with a table, some chairs, and some generic furniture that kids can use in different ways. Apart from a table and some chairs, you could also add a mirror, hangers, shelves, an easel (for an optometrist, a restaurant menu, etc.), a whiteboard, or anything the children could use in their game. If you enjoy papier mache, you can even create small items of furniture from cardboard and recycled paper.

Other useful multi-purpose props are: blankets, pillows, cushions, books, pots, old telephone, keyboards, glasses, scarves, stuffed animals, dolls, pencils and notepads, purses, wallets, boxes, baskets, sponges. If you don’t have a fund to buy props, you can go ask local businesses if they have something to donate. Last year we received a lot of samples of carpets and we even used them as sitting pads. People will be happy to help teachers.

You can also make your own props, such as: restaurant menu, vet checklist, open/closed store sign, waiting list in a store, envelopes for the post office, labels, etc.

Once you have set the center, it’s time to choose the themes and start playing. You can use the children’s interests to plan themes, but also take advantage of the unexpected. Some kids might spontaneously come up with ideas for dramatic play – your job is to encourage that and help them set the scene. Plan as much with the children as you can and try to involve them in choosing the props and the roles.

If you lack ideas, you can choose some of the themes in this list:

· airport
· animal shelter
· apple orchard
· art gallery
· astronaut
· at the beach
· at the zoo
· bakery
· ballet lesson
· bank
· birthday party
· camping
· car wash
· castle
· cave
· circus
· coffee shop
· construction site
· cowboys
· dentist
· different story plots
· doctor’s office
· electronics store
· farm
· fire station
· florist
· gas station
· gift shop
· grocery store
· hair salon/barber shop
· hospital
· ice cream shop
· in the bus
· kindergarten
· library
· movie theater
· nursery
· office
· optical shop
· picnic
· pizzeria
· post office
· restaurant
· school
· shoe store
· space
· toy store
· train
· veterinary clinic

Before I go, I want to tell you to keep an eye on the blog. I'm soon going to post some cute printables for dramatic play! They will be flash freebies.

Do you have any other suggestions for dramatic play? If so, share them here. :)

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