How Dramatic Play Supports Children’s Development

 

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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 support dramatic play

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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?”

Source: eXtension.org

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

Make sure to follow The Learning Child on social media for more research-based early childhood education resources!

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My Potty Party, Personalized Books that Teach

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Vera is 3 years old and recently started toilet training.  She spends the early mornings at her grandmother’s home before going to preschool.  Her grandma is teaching her to go “tinkle” in the adult sized toilet, puts her in a pull-up, and takes her every 3o minutes to ensure success.  When Vera gets to school her teachers help her change into underwear and go to “the bathroom” in a child-sized toilet open to several other stalls.  By the time she gets home in the evening, her mother rewards her with a star sticker for initiating use of the “potty chair” but still asks Vera to wear a diaper to avoid messes.  Vera is learning one skill in three different settings in three different ways.

Personalized Books That Teach

Toilet training is arguably the most stressful milestone of early childhood.  Complicating this is the fact that in Nebraska, according to the 2016 Kids Count in Nebraska Report, nearly 72% of children aged 0-5 have both parents in the workforce, and the national average is not far behind.  The stress of toilet training can also be extended to child care providers who, due to licensing ratios, may have multiple children in their care toilet training at the same time with little assistance.  The investment of time and stress involved in toilet training is exacerbated when the home and school environments do not have consistent toileting practices.  Using self-modeling in the form of a personalized story book is one approach to teaching the skill of toilet training in a fun and educational way that children and parents will both enjoy.

Toddlerhood is a time of rapid growth and milestones.  These milestones often involve learning new and complex tasks such as sleeping in a bed and toilet training.  While these are exciting new developments, they can also be stressful for young children, families, and teachers.  Even in the best situations, children have multiple adults teaching them the new skill, often in multiple settings, and with varying materials.  Making a personalized book to teach a skill can ease transitions for young children and support families.

Personalized books can be used to teach a skill by uniquely creating a story that teaches a sequence of skills with the child as the main character.  In a personalized book, the child serves as his own model and can see himself be successful from the very start.  Creating a personalized book to teach a new skill accomplishes three main goals important for transitions: using familiar language and terminology, providing a visual image of what success looks like, and maintaining consistency between the home and school environments.

Language and Terminology

When writing the text for the personalized book it may be helpful to keep a children’s book nearby as a guide or imagine yourself talking with the child.  Be sure to write the text in clear, plain language using the family’s preferred terminology.  Gathering input from the family or child care provider will help to identify how the child communicates about the topic at home and school.  This could be the difference in using “potty” or “toilet” or incorporating the correct word used in a child’s native language.  Using specific sequencing words such as “first”, “next”, “then”, and “last” can cue children to the order of the steps and help them remember the sequence.  In the case that a specific reinforcement is used to celebrate a child’s success (such as a high-five, reading an extra book at bedtime, a sticker, or fruit snack) the reward can be written right into the book.  Although it is temping to try to use rhyme, a popular feature of many children’s books, it is best if the message is simple and factual.

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Visual Image of Success

The old adage, “A picture is worth a thousand words,” has never been more true.  A personalized book provides visual images depicting the child completing each step of the new skill successfully.  Research indicates that children find personalized books more engaging than even their favorite picture books (Kucirkova, 2012).  When a child sees her or himself as the main character of the book it draws their attention to the necessary steps, can increase motivation to achieve, and prompts conversation about the topic.  All three of these benefits can be incredibly helpful for parents beginning toilet training with their child.

Consistency Across Settings

The goal of learning a new skill is to be able to generalize that skill across materials and environments.  However when the skill is being acquired, it can be challenging to learn in multiple environments and with different materials.  For the toilet training child this may mean success at home on a potty chair but difficulties at school with a child-size toilet.  In addition, well-meaning adults often use a variety of terms to communicate about expectations, but this can lead to confusion on the part of the child.  Overall, it can be a challenge for all adults to be on the same page.  A personalized book can quite literally keep everyone on the same page.  For this reason, it is helpful to print multiple copies of the personalized book, one for each home the child resides in and one for school.  This allows one uniform message to be shared in multiple places and serves as a reminder to busy adults about the agreed upon process, how to talk about it with the child, and how to reinforce it.

Online Resources

Of course, the busy lifestyle of today’s parents doesn’t always allow for time to create and write your own personalized book.  Luckily, several online resources are available that streamline the process or do it for you.  Advances in technology have improved and led to innovative ways to integrate children into stories that teach a skill or lesson.  Below are online resources that personalize books to support children not only in potty training but through other early transitions as well.

potty resources

References

Kucirkova, N., Messer, D., & Whitelock, D. (2012). Parents reading with their toddlers : The role of personalization in book engagement.  Journal of Early Childhood Literacy, 13(3), 445-470. https://doi.org/10.1177/1468798412438068

Voices for Children. (2016) Kids Count in Nebraska Report. Ralston, NE: Chrissy Tonkinson.

Erin Hamel, MEd, Guest Blogger | THE LEARNING CHILD

Erin holds a masters degree in Special Education and is currently a doctoral student in Child Development at the University of Nebraska – Lincoln. She has a bachelor’s degree in elementary education and is a licensed teacher in the state of Nebraska. Erin began her career teaching internationally and has worked with children of all ability ranges from eighteen months to sixth grade. She is passionate about teacher development, connecting young children to nature, and supporting parents and children.

Peer Reviewed by Lynn DeVries, Extension Educator, The Learning Child and Sarah Roberts, Extension Educator, The Learning Child

Make sure to follow The Learning Child on social media for more research-based early childhood education resources!

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Grape play dough made me want to become an early childhood teacher

Mark1

Have you ever heard this statement “So, I have a silly question.”

As an early childhood specialist, I listened to teachers ask this question only for it to lead into a richer discussion regarding their classrooms.  For many years, I coached infant and toddler teachers, and I used this statement as an opportunity to introduce the importance of responding to young children’s curiosity.  Whenever a teacher led with that comment, I would either start the coaching conversation or end the conversation sharing the following story…

When I was three years old, my mother attended ESL classes at the county’s local community college.  Adjacent to the college was a small childcare lab school that I attended for preschool.  It was an incredible program. Well-defined learning centers with warm, patient, and interactive teachers.  Now knowing what I know, the program was certainly a high-quality early childhood program.  I am confident my preschool experiences reinforced my aspiration to become an early childhood professional.

One day, I asked my preschool teacher if she was a magician.  Every day, my preschool teacher offered in the art center a fruit-scented play dough. I was perplexed by the possibility that play dough could smell sweet like grape juice, or citrusy like lemons. It was beyond my imagination.  I remember her response, and all these years I have carried it with me.  She said, “What a silly question, and I am so glad you asked it. Tomorrow you can help me make it, and I will show you the magical powder that goes into it.”  My preschool teacher met my curiosity responsively instead of dismissing it.  She relished in my joy; I can still hear her laughter as I helped her make the play dough.  That day my teacher taught me that play dough was not just pliable dough; it could be so much more.  It was beyond anything I could have imagined.  My teacher recognized this question as a teachable moment and an opportunity to strengthen our relationship by affirming my question instead of dismissing it.  This experience inspired the creation of my twitter handle @beyondplaydough (I invite you to follow me).

Have you ever wondered what it is like for young children when they ask adults questions? 

If we are hoping to instill a sense of joy in learning, it is up to us as early childhood educators to respond authentically to young children’s bids and questions, no matter how silly they may seem.

As the mother of a preschooler who is currently in this state, I can relate to my teacher’s delight many years ago.  The other night, while reading Duck on Bike by author David Shannon I paused on the hilarious page when all of the animals hop on the bicycles.  I wanted to focus on defining new words by using what he already knew about bikes and then conceptually map the different types of bikes while introducing new vocabulary.  As I pointed to each bike, I explained how Chicken was actually on a tricycle because it had three wheels.  I noted that Pig and Pig were on a tandem bike built for two!  Then, our son noticed one of the bicycles had a different shaped seat.  He pointed at it and I told him it was called a banana seat, and immediately giggling ensued.  He turned his head to look up at me and said, “You cannot sit on a banana Mama, it would be all mushy, that is just so silly. Why would anyone be so silly Mama and sit on a banana?”

Right on little guy, why would anyone be so silly?

What is the silliest question a child has asked you?  Did the question delve into a deeper level of learning? Were you able to use it to further a child’s understanding of a particular concept, if so how?

Comment below!

Source: Linda Reddish, personal image

Linda Reddish, EXTENSION EDUCATOR | THE LEARNING CHILD

Peer Reviewed by Lynn DeVries, Extension Educator, The Learning Child and

John Porter, Urban Agriculture Program Coordinator

Make sure to follow The Learning Child on social media for more research-based early childhood education resources!

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