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Dramatic Play: A Daily Requirement for Children
By Linda G. Miller, Ed.D

Early childhood teachers quickly realize that "home living" is a favorite area among young children. There is no wonder at this interest area's popularity. A young child's family and home are the biggest part of his or her world. The imitation of what happens there an in the world around them is the central focus of how children play. Children act out and explore the lives of people by acting out their work, their feelings, and their words.

Intellectual and Physical Benefits
Play is the work of children, and through play children benefit intellectually, physically, socially, and emotionally. The benefits of play for children's intellectual growth are numerous. As children play out the situations in their lives (or in their pretend lives), they are met with situations they do not understand. As they approach the situations and attempt to make sense of them in the context of their own lives, they practice problem-solving skills and build new knowledge. Children grow physically as they rearrange (gross motor) the large elements (table, chairs, cradle) of the interest area and as they manipulate (fine motor) contents (food boxes, dolls, clothes, and hats) of the interest area.

Equipment and Purchases Enrichments
Core items for dramatic play are items required by state licensing and/or recommended by professional groups, such as NAEYC. The following list contains basic items for creating a dramatic play area.

Stove, sink or refrigerator

1 each or combo

Doll bed or cradle


Pots and pans

1 set


2 sets

Table and chairs

2 sets



Cash register




Play food (multicultural)


Dress-up clothes

several varied

Hand puppets


Puppet theater


Dolls (multicultural)


Doll clothes

2 sets

Toy iron and board

1 set

Social and Emotional Benefits
Perhaps the greatest opportunities for growth through dramatic play are in the areas of social and emotional development. In a situation where children feel safe and protected, they can play out situations that are troubling them. As children are negotiating all the situations inherent in dramatic play in a group setting, they feel a sense of accomplishment and pride. Dramatic play is absolutely open-ended, and through this nature of open-endedness, children cannot fail. They just grow and learn according to where they are in their own development.

Requirements for the Dramatic Play Area
To be considered an adequate dramatic play area, basic requirements must be met. Certainly the area is not limited to the representation of a home. Some of the richest play opportunities exist when children are playing restaurant, fire fighter, teacher, or emergency room. However, most teachers start with equipment that represents home. The suggestions provided will help you set up a rich environment for dramatic play.

Gathered Enrichments
Gathered enrichments allow teachers to collect everyday items and add them to the dramatic play area to enhance the theme. Gathered materials may be placed alone or with other enrichments and can be rotated to keep children interested and enthusiastic about exploring the area. Additional dress-up clothes and accessories include:

Food boxes


Cleaning materials

Cordless appliances

Picnic basket and accessories


Writing materials (paper, pen, markers)

Dish towels

Shopping basket


Basin (for washing dolls)


Artificial flowers and vases



Kitchen utensils

Recipe cards


Teacher's Role in Dramatic Play
As with other aspects of the early childhood classroom, the teacher's role in dramatic play is crucial. A classroom may have all the purchased items that anyone could want, but without an effective teacher, it still is ineffective. Children depend on teachers to provide a number of basic needs:


1.       Physical Safety: Provide a safe environment and know what to do in an emergency.


2.       Emotional Security: Provide a place where there are no "put-downs." Children are provided with the skills and emotional strength to cope with situations in a positive manner.


3.       Sense of Identity: Expect behavior from children that is reasonable and developmentally appropriate.


4.       Affiliation/Belonging: Make children feel accepted and cared for even when there are negative circumstances.


5.       Chance to Be Capable: Let children be risk-takers with reasonable boundaries.


6.       Sense of Purpose: Help children set goals.


Creation of Space and Time
Children who are crowded together in a small space often will have difficulty playing cooperatively. They may push and complain and have problems in general. The following are suggestions for arranging the dramatic play area:


  • Place over carpeted area or have area rugs for the children's comfort and to reduce noise.

  • Treat as a loud and wet (or dry) area.

  • Avoid placing next to block area.

  • Allow up to four to five children in the area at a time.

  • Create curtains, windows, fireplace, and plants to make like home or other location.

  • Provide at least four clean outfits with a space to hang.

  • Select outfits that are simple, durable, and easy to get on and off.

  • Provide at least an hour in the morning and an hour in the afternoon for play in the interest areas.

Teachers must be very careful to support children's play and not control it. The majority of what the teacher does should center around creating the environment for play. Children can then learn through active exploration of a warm, stimulating environment. They can grow and develop as they learn through play.

Linda G. Miller, Ed.D., has 26 years of experience in the field of education as a classroom teacher, supervisor, federal projects administrator, and curriculum developer. She can be reached by email at dr_linda_miller@hotmail.com.