Have you ever been served an imaginary cup of tea by your little one? If so, you must be familiar with dramatic play. Pretend play is an important part of children’s development and allows them to explore their own emotions and thoughts, but also develop crucial social and cognitive skills. In this post we’re going to talk about some of the many benefits of dramatic play.
What is dramatic play?
Dramatic play, also known as imaginative play or pretend play is a type of play that requires children to use their imagination to create different scenarios and act out different roles. Popular dramatic play themes amongst children are playing doctors, hairdressers or restaurants. If you have young children at home, you will have likely been invited to participate in this kind of play before!
Dramatic play and child development
Babies and toddlers’ play happens in stages. In an early phase of pretend play, a baby might imitate a learned behaviour, like putting an empty spoon or cup to their mouth, but they’re not yet actively playing.
From around 12 months of age, toddlers start showing the first signs of pretending by, for example, pretending to drink from an empty cup and making drinking sounds. At this stage the child is able to tell the difference between real and not real, and starts using it in the way they play.
Later on, the young child will start to engage in pretend play by using objects to represent other objects. A child might use a banana to pretend they’re talking on the phone. They do this because they can see a similarity in shape or size between the two objects, and they are able to use their imagination to see the banana as a replacement for the phone. This kind of symbolic play shows a new level of advanced thinking.
Between the age of 12 and 24 months, a child will begin to involve others in their pretend play by, for example, passing you the cup to drink from. This shows that they are becoming aware of others as being separate from themselves.
Preschool aged children’s imaginative play will become more advanced as they grow and mature. At some point they will be able to plan their play by collecting objects and preparing the environment for a specific scenario. For example, they might set up a restaurant scene by first gathering plates and cups and making a menu before being ready to play.
Dramatic play allows children of all ages to expand their communication skills, practice sharing, taking turns, play different social roles and work collaboratively for a common goal. These benefits will remain relevant from early childhood until well into their school years.
Additional benefits of dramatic play
Now that we know the connection between dramatic play and child’s development, let’s look at some other benefits of dramatic play.
Pretend play allows children to connect with their peers and carers. Sharing a moment of play with their friends or parents will help children feel loved and accepted. Even if as adults we may not always enjoy to pretend to drink the imaginary tea, making an effort to connect with our children this way can help build their self-confidence and self-esteem.
Pretend play promotes language development, as engaging in this type of play allows children to use and extend their vocabulary to suit the role they are playing to communicate with their peers.
Social and emotional skills
While engaging in dramatic play, children will have the opportunity to play out different roles and be exposed to different social situations. They will have to navigate some conflict resolution, take turns, share with their peers and, at time, handle disappointment and frustration. These are all great opportunities to problem solve, develop empathy and practice emotional regulation.
Fine motor / writing skills
Dramatic play can also support the development of fine motor and writing skills. For example, when playing restaurants a young child might hold a pen and pretend to take an order by scribbling on a piece of paper. An older child might actually write the order or make a menu and sign for their restaurant.
Encouraging dramatic play at home
While most children will naturally seek imaginative play, providing them with tailored experiences that meet their interests can be a great way to foster more play, and therefore increase the learning opportunities.
Parents and carers can do this by leaning in on the child’s interests, accepting their invitations to play, providing them with resources or a prepared environment that hones in on those interests. A play kitchen, a doctor’s kit or dress-up costumes are good examples of toys that foster pretend play. But so do simple household items, like pots and pans, plastic plates and cups, etc. The older the children, the more ability they have to use different items to represent the objects they need, so please don’t think you have to spend a small fortune on toys. Everyday items from around the house or simple toy blocks can become anything in your child’s imagination!
If your child is particularly fond of dramatic play or you would like to provide a more complex and immersive play experience, you can prepare the play scene for them (or with them). Our dramatic play kits are very popular for this!
Incorporating dramatic play in educational settings
Dramatic play is often used in classrooms, either to help promote social skills in early learning stages – taking turns, sharing resources, communicating, etc – or to better convey maths concepts and society roles or encourage writing – counting the money while playing shops, making a restaurant menu, taking turns being the customer vs the shop attendant, etc.
Many teachers and educators use our dramatic play kits for this purpose.
Dramatic play themes and ideas
All types of play are valid and important in each child’s learning journey. Pretend play is just one of the ways in which children start to make sense of the world around them, understanding different feelings and how they relate to others.
Some popular dramatic play themes for young kids are Restaurant (or more specifically coffee shop, pizzeria, ice cream shop…), Hairdressers, Doctor or Vet, playing Schools, etc.
If you’re looking for some ideas to ignite your little ones’ play, be sure to check the Dramatic Play section of our shop. We have lots of printables you can use to create a magical experience for your children at home or in the classroom.
Browse all Dramatic Play Printables.
Don’t forget to tag @mypartydesign on Instagram or Facebook if you use any of our printables, I would love to see your dramatic play spaces!