Dramatic Play in Child Care

Girl with pretend pizza

Dramatic play is an excellent way for children to develop their imagination and creativity. Children also have the freedom to express their feelings through dramatic play. Child care providers can help promote dramatic play by providing toys, props and costumes for children to use.

Children who participate in dramatic play are able to act out feelings that they may otherwise not be able to show or say directly. Child care providers can often understand what a child might be feeling through observing children who participate in dramatic play.

Children will often act out what they’ve seen other people do. This is a way for them to sort out what they understand about what is happening in their environment. For example, a child, who may be afraid of the doctor, can express his or her fear by using dramatic play. The child may act out what going to the doctor might be like by pretending to give shots to dolls or stuffed animals.

The Development of Dramatic Play

Dramatic play begins as early as one year, when children are able to take a prop and imitate what they have seen the prop used for. For instance, a child given a toy brush will know to brush his or her hair because they have seen a family member use a brush to brush their hair. By 2 years, children can use other toys and pretend to use them for different props. For example, a child may take a block and use it as a brush.

As children grow and develop, so does their dramatic play. From simple imitative movement, children move on to complex dramatic play. Child care providers should watch and listen to children who are participating in dramatic play. In this way, child care providers can be good observers of what children say and how they use materials for their play. It is also important for providers to participate in dramatic play when given opportunity and to play at the appropriate age level of the children.

The Role of Dramatic Play in Child Care Settings

Dramatic play can occur daily in the lives of children. Children learn by participating in dramatic play. It also helps children with their language development. A child who doesn’t talk much in class may have to talk more with other children in order to be included in dramatic play times. Children also listen and respond to each other while playing in dramatic play. They may also learn new words from one another.

For More Information

Quality child care programs intentionally provide young children opportunities to develop their imagination and creativity through dramatic play.  To learn more about how to support and nurture young children’s developing imagination and creativity, see the following eXtension Alliance for Better Child Care articles:

If you are looking for specific dramatic play activities for your child care program, check out the Hands-on Activities for Child Care database. 

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