This is What You Need to Know about Dramatic Play

What kind of person did you pretend to be when you were a kid? An Olympic athlete, a veterinarian… a rockstar? 

Children Learn Through Dramatic Play

I LOVED to pretend when I was little.  What I didn’t realize at the time was that in addition to pretending….I was also learning.

Little girl playing in her doctor dramatic play center.

Let’s take a look at why dramatic play is a critical component of early childhood education. You can learn what dramatic play is and explore the benefits of imaginative play for your kids. I’m all about ideas, so you can also find LOTS of ideas for dramatic play themes and props.

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What is Dramatic Play?

Dramatic play is often called pretend play or imaginative play.  In dramatic play, kids act out different roles. Want more details? Visit this article: What is Dramatic Play & Why Does it Matter?

What Roles Can Kids Play Through Pretend Play?

The roles can be real-life scenarios, like when my son would don a tie and pretend that he was going to the office like his Dad.  The roles can also be fantasy, like when the kids pretend that the play structure on the playground is a pirate ship.

360 Dramatic Play Ideas

The ideas for dramatic play are ENDLESS. Check out these 360 dramatic play ideas. It is the ultimate list of ideas to get your creative juices flowing.

360 ideas for dramatic play. The image is a collage with different dramatic play centers

Additional Imaginary Play Ideas

What Are the Benefits of Imaginative Play?

There is a lot of learning going on when kids engage in dramatic play. Learning through play is engaging, meaningful, and essential to young kids. Browse through the benefits below and get more details in this article: What Are The Benefits of Dramatic Play?

Social Studies

Frozen food containers to use for grocery store dramatic play center - examples of props for dramatic play

Dramatic play lets kids learn about families and communities.  They learn how the world works.  Kids can learn about different areas of a grocery store, different people who work at a doctor’s office or how an animal shelter works.

Social Skills

girl hugging her dog in an animal shelter dramatic play area

Kids learn how to work cooperatively to solve problems.  Kids can learn empathy as they put themselves in other’s shoes.

Language Skills

SIY taco topping props for taco stand dramatic plat center

Kids learn new vocabulary and learn how to communicate their wants, needs, and even their desire for a breakfast taco.

Literacy Skills

A weather observation sheet in a weather station dramatic play area for preschoolers

Children experiment with a wide variety of texts like grocery lists, maps, and taco menus, pre-flight checklists.  They learn that reading and writing are part of everyday life and that different tasks require different texts. 

Sometimes kids act out a story from a familiar book.  This actually increases their reading comprehension.

Fine Motor Skills

Add a pharmacy to your doctor dramatic play center.

Writing practice often takes place when kids pretend.  They might make a grocery list, make a sign for a restaurant, address an envelope, etc. 

Kids can also work on fine motor skills as they fill prescriptions, feed animals, or fill egg cartons.

Math Skills

Cash register, credit card scanner, money, and play credit cards for a grocery store dramatic play area. Props for dramatic play.

As kids set the table in a restaurant, count out the change in a gift shop, or weigh animals in an animal shelter they will practice early math skills.  There are all kinds of opportunities to work on math skills while pretending.

Setting up your doctor dramatic play center.

Science Skills

Kids are natural scientists and through dramatic play, your kids can explore science as they pretend to be astronauts, entomologists, geologists, lab technicians, or weather reporters.

How to Set up a Dramatic Play Center

Your dramatic play area can be as big or small as you like, and you can set it up on any budget. The basics for a kitchen or home living dramatic play center include a table and chairs, a sink, a stove, and a refrigerator.

Additional pieces of furniture can serve different functions to help you transform your center for a new theme.

A puppet theatre can be used as a reception desk in a doctor’s office, but as a check-out lane in a grocery store.  A table can serve as a restaurant table, kitchen table, or vet’s exam table in an animal shelter.  Shelves can be switched out with different props for each theme.

If your budget is tight or if you are super creative, you can create furniture and dramatic play props for your pretend play space.

Here is some furniture that will work well for a classroom dramatic play space.

Props for Dramatic Play

In the dramatic play center, the props are like the icing on the cake.

Dramatic play props can really engage the kids and help them get into their pretend roles, so be sure to give some thoughts on which props to add.  You can use a combination of props made for pretend play, real-life objects, and creative substitutes.

Have fun gathering and making props.

Find keys, non-working cell phones, and laptops, baby dolls of different races, magazines, grocery carts…the ideas are endless. I love visiting thrift shops and garage sales to find props at bargain prices

Need ideas? Check out this article: The Ultimate List of Props for Dramatic Play.

Props for Dramatic Play. A girl is dressed as a doctor and is playing with her doll

You can also find many props available in stores. Here are some good ones.

Dress-up Clothes

When you are adding props, don’t forget about adding dress-up clothes.

Again, visit thrift stores and garage sales, watch for sales on Halloween costumes, and get hand-me-downs for friends and families.

Something magical happens when kids dress up in costumes and you don’t want your kids to miss out on that magic.

children dressed up in pretend play costumes. There is a child dressed as a police officer, a chef, a doctor, a firefighter, and a construction worker.

Here are some good options for dress-up clothes:

A Print-Rich Dramatic Play Center

Dramatic play teaches kids that there are many different types of text.  There are many ways to easily add text throughout your dramatic play center.

Label everything that you can.  Labels provide kids with opportunities to look at words, look at the sounds in words, and expand their vocabulary.

vet supply props for a dramatic play area

Do you need some ideas for adding print to your dramatic play set-up?  Here are some text ideas that you can add for popular themed play areas.

  • Restaurants – menus, signs for daily specials, order forms, checks
  • Doctor’s Office – sign-in sheets, signs for exam rooms and waiting areas, exam checklists
  • Police Station -maps, parking tickets,……
  • Post Office – price signs, maps, postcards, stamps, mailing labels, envelopes, stationary
  • Home – grocery list, to do list, books, magazines, computers, electronic devices
  • Airport – maps, flight schedules, computers, magazines, boarding passes
  • Grocery Store – ads, coupons, price tags, shopping lists

You can also add fiction or non-fiction books to your center.

Additional Ideas

I hope that this helped you understand the importance of dramatic play for young children…and hopefully, it helped you come up with some new ideas for the dramatic play area in your classroom.

how to set up a weather station dramatic play area complete with a weather computer

Printables for Your Dramatic Play Center

Pick up these dramatic play printables from my store.  Click on the images below to check them out and purchase a set or bundle today.

science themed dramatic play activity bundle
my community dramatic play printables
doctor dramatic play printables
weather station dramatic play area
entomology lab dramatic play printables
geology lab dramatic play printables
animal shelter dramatic play center
space station dramatic play area

Printables on TPT

Do you prefer to shop at TPT? You can also find my dramatic play printables in my TPT store.