May 05, 2011 Kerala Taylor

Teacher talk: The benefits of dramatic play

As Teacher Appreciation Week draws to a close, we present our final installment of “Teacher talk,” focusing on the benefits of dramatic play. We all know kids love to assume "pretend" roles, but what you may not know is how important this type of play is to a child’s education and development.

As the Alliance for Childhood reports in Crisis in the Kindergarten: Why Children Need to Play in School:

"Research shows that children who engage in complex forms of socio-dramatic play have greater language skills than nonplayers, better social skills, more empathy, more imagination, and more of the subtle capacity to know what others mean. They are less aggressive and show more self-control and higher levels of thinking."

Here, teachers talk about dramatic play and its place in the classroom:

“After presenting a formal lesson with interaction, I set up centers throughout the room where the children can play in small groups. They have the chance to expand on the ideas through communication, drama and hands-on experiences. When we regroup in the afternoon, I encourage them to share what they did with their friends during free play. Some of the ideas they come up with are amazing.”
- Jeanne Berger, Maryland

“Recently, a group of our children have developed an interest in airplanes. We provided them with dramatic play materials—suitcases, costumes, things to pack, maps—to give them a chance to act out their stories. We surveyed them about the number of students who have flown on planes, and found their destinations on maps. We helped the kids make passports, practicing writing, reading, and fine motor skills, and then set up an airplane on which they "flew" to France, where they enjoyed a French snack, heard the French language, and viewed a slideshow from a teacher's recent trip to France! By taking the themes we saw in their play, and supporting the concepts with materials, projects, and activities that fostered the development of a variety of skills, we utilized play opportunities as growth opportunities.”
- Emily Doll, Pennsylvania

“I allow my students the freedom to explore and interpret the classroom resources however they want. We recently had a student use the puppet theatre as a French Fry Truck, complete with ketchup, salt, and a list of items for sale etc. It was very creative and the other students jumped right in to help expand the play by becoming enthusiastic patrons!”
- Brenda Cooper, Ontario (Canada)

“When my students have free play it's as if they become someone new. They are able to be whoever they want to be through dramatic play and practice their new vocabulary with no judgments. I join them and do whatever they want me to, from being a patient to being a baby or acting as a table to hold their food for dinner. My students learn their identity, their strength, how to have relationships with people outside of their family, how to solve a problem and how not to give up.”
- Tamica Reynolds, Pennsylvania

“Play is in everything that is important in our classroom. During work time, a small group of girls discovered a stack of lunch trays and decided to work with the playdough. At some point someone decided to use the playdough and cutters to make a bakery. More children got involved with the process of making the baked goods and they all ended in the House Area when someone suggested putting the trays in the oven. To their surprise, the trays fit. It was a great event to witness, especially when they all started in separate small groups and ended up working together.”
- Carmen Romero, Michigan

“I teach full-day kindergarten to targeted at-risk kids. There is no way I could maintain their attention nor maximize skill practice without play. I wish more elementary educators and administrators understood that. I integrate subjects into my play centers. One grocery store dramatic play center can hit every core subject at each child's own learning level.”
- Kristen Cawley, Utah

Previous installments:

early childhood education, teacher appreciation week, education, elementary school, preschool