Excerpt from Chapter 7, The Creative Curriculum for Preschool, 4th Edition
Dramatic play is central to children's healthy development and learning during the preschool years. For this reason, every Creative Curriculum classroom includes an area designed to inspire creative and imaginative play. In the Dramatic Play Area, children break through the restrictions of reality. They pretend to be someone or something different from themselves and make up situations and actions that go along with the role they choose. When children engage in dramatic play they deepen their understanding of the world and develop skills that will serve them throughout their lives.
What Children Learn in the Dramatic Play Area
Each of the content areas can be addressed in the Dramatic Play Area. Here are some examples of how teachers purposefully plan experiences and provide materials that involve children in learning meaningful content through their dramatic play.
Promote vocabulary and language by introducing and teaching children the names of props (e.g., stethoscope, briefcase, hard hat, menu). Ask questions (e.g., "You look all dressed up. Where are you going?") and read stories on topics that children use in their dramatic play, such as buying new shoes or going to the clinic.
Encourage children to explore print and letters and words by placing writing tools and paper in the Dramatic Play Area (e.g., note pads, prescription pads, eye charts, posters, stationery, and envelopes). Participate in children's play to demonstrate the uses of writing. Encourage children to use writing tools and paper as part of their play. Offer props such as telephone books and empty food boxes with labels.
Promote understanding of books and other texts by including storybooks, phone books, calendars, cookbooks, newspapers, magazines, and other print materials in the Dramatic Play Area. Encourage children to use these props in their play. Read storybooks that inspire dramatic play such as Roxaboxen (Alice McLerran), Miss Tizzy (Libba Moore Gray), and Aunt Flossie's Hats (Elizabeth Fitzgerald Howard).
Guide problem solving by helping children to find solutions to problems they encounter (e.g., what they can use for food, how to make a balance scale, what to do if two children both want to be the doctor).
Promote understanding of number concepts by asking number questions (e.g., "How many plates do you need to put on the table?"). Offer props such as play money, scales, measuring tapes, cash registers, and calculators.
Encourage children's interest in measurement by providing props such as a foot measurer for a shoe store, sand timers, height charts, and a bathroom scale.
Encourage children to explore physical science by providing balance scales, eggbeaters, kitchen magnets, can openers, timers, and fishing rods (without hooks).
Expand children's knowledge of life science by including plants in the Dramatic Play Area. Talk about what kinds of foods are good to eat. Discuss the names of pretend fruits and vegetables.
Promote understanding of the earth and the environment by including telescopes and thermometers. Discuss weather reports and talk about recycling.
Encourage learning about spaces and geography by including maps. Take trips to neighborhood stores and help children set up a store in the Dramatic Play Area.
Explore concepts related to people and how they live by providing props that encourage children to role-play family life and different kinds of jobs. Display photographs of families and community helpers.
Encourage children to explore drama by teaching them the skills they need to pretend. Read familiar stories that children can act out. Provide puppets and encourage children to put on a puppet show.
Promote the visual arts by providing materials children need to make their own props for dramatic play, such as cardboard boxes, collage materials, construction paper, scissors, paint, and markers.
Raise children's awareness of technology by including old cameras, calculators, different types of phones, typewriters, and computers in the Dramatic Play Area. Talk with children about how these objects are used.
Promote understanding of people and technology by taking on a role and demonstrating how to use different tools in play episodes. Visit people or invite guests to your classroom who use technology in their work and encourage children to use what they learn in their dramatic play themes.
There are many ways teachers can help children to develop knowledge and skills in the different content areas through dramatic play. We expand on the teacher's role next.