Dramatic play happens when children take on a role and act out a play, a story or act in a video. When children engage in dramatic play it helps them build social skills, makes them more aware of emotions, and encourages problem solving. As children play and interact in dramatic play, they practice skills in the following areas:
- Social/emotional: working with others to successfully act out most stories or plays helps children learn to get along with one another to keep the play going
- Physical: using large and small muscles to put on costumes, manipulate props, and practice eye-hand coordination
- Cognitive: thinking up and acting out a story requires cognitive ability, organizing and expressing ideas, paying attention to how other people see the world, and finding creative solutions to challenges
- Language: asking and answering questions, using language related to a role they are playing, for example, “Did you find everything you were looking for today in our store?”, early literacy and writing skills
Dramatic play is most effective when children come up with the story and decide how it should be acted out. Adults can help children use the following skills as they act out their plays:
- Role play: pretending to be someone else
- Use of props: using objects to expand and enhance pretend play
- Make-believe: copying the actions of persons from various settings (e.g., waiter, doctor)
- In-depth play: spending an extended amount of time playing out a theme or idea in dramatic play
- Interaction: playing cooperatively with others and exchanging ideas about roles and other details
- Verbal communication: using language skills to act out roles and negotiate play details
Adults can also help children engage in more complex and extended dramatic play using the following ideas:
- Model pretend play: Use books, songs, or stories to engage children in using their imagination, such as having children climb a tree, swing on a vine like a monkey, or crawl through a tunnel. Have the children suggest what happens next.
- Observe children’s play: Pay attention to who is playing, the language being used, and the roles they are acting out. Observing may also give you new ideas for props and dramatic play themes of interest.
- Participate as a supporting character: If children don’t seem to know what to do next, consider entering their play as a supporting character to give them ideas. If the area is a restaurant, you could sit down at a table and say, “Will someone please take my order?”
Leanne Manning, EXTENSION EDUCATOR | THE LEARNING CHILD
Peer Reviewed by Sarah Roberts, Extension Educator, The Learning Child and Lisa Poppe, Extension Educator, The Learning Child
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