As parents, we always want the best for our children. That can translate into a load of different ways, whether it’s making sure they have the latest toys and games to share with their friends or nurturing their playtime. We just want to help them grow and flourish.
In the modern day, there’s a large amount of evidence-based models that are proven to support their mental and emotional development into adolescence in a way that’s both fun and engaging.
Young children learn huge amounts through play, meaning it’s important for us to provide a wide range of different experiences and opportunities that they can use to explore the world around them and establish their own identities. One type of play that is recommended by child development experts is dramatic play; but what is this? And how can you encourage your youngster to engage in it?
In this article, we’ll introduce you to dramatic play, explaining what it involves, the benefits it can bring to a child’s development and, most importantly, how you can make dramatic play one of your child’s favourite activities.
What is dramatic play?
In the early stages of child development, the importance of play cannot be understated as a crucial part of their social and cognitive growth. A large part of early childhood development comes from dramatic play. It’s similar to pretend or imaginative play, with a little more structure, which in turn can encourage more benefits than other play styles.
This type of play involves a child taking on a certain role and acting it out within a play setting, helping them communicate in real-life situations and gain social skills going forward.
What are childhood development stages?
A child’s early development can be separated into stages, these help give an overview of the way their brain is developing at the time. Over the years, experts have used this to decide best practices for a child’s upbringing. The first 5 years of a child’s life are separated into 5 sections.
- Newborn (0-3 months)
- Infant (3-12 months)
- Toddler (1-3 years)
- Preschool age (3-4 years)
- School age (4-5 years)
Dramatic play becomes appropriate for children at around 3 years old, “preschool age”. At this age, their brain is developed enough to come up with make-believe stories, they’ll take off exploring new roles and you’ll notice there will be less encouragement needed on your part.
What are the types of dramatic play?
Structured dramatic play
Structured dramatic play is a good way to get a child used to dramatic play if they haven’t done it before. This play setting includes giving people taking part specific guidelines to help them get started, everyone taking part is assigned a role and must act within it! You can find out more about the benefits of role play with children on our blog.
Unstructured dramatic play
This is where you let your young children have full creative control over who they want to be and how they want their story to play out, they pick their own roles and can make the narrative as wacky and wonderful as they like!
Note, unstructured dramatic play is great for getting the creative side of a little one’s brain working.
Dramatic play ideas
This is where you and your child can come together and understand them a little more. The possibilities are endless! You can turn your living room into a fire station, doctor’s office or maybe the middle of the Atlantic, with cushions marking out the edges of your pirate ship!
Another one is a tea party, which is also a great opportunity for you to practice table manners with your child, and perhaps pretend that the queen is coming for tea!
Nothing immerses you into character like the right outfits, this is a great chance to get everyone to dress up and really get involved.
If you still can’t think of the perfect idea for play between you and your little one, take a look at our 10 role-play ideas for kids.
Why is dramatic play important?
Dramatic play is important for a whole host of reasons, all of which are connected to a child’s overall emotional, social and intellectual development as they grow older. Let’s take a closer look at how engaging in regular dramatic play can benefit your child both at home and at school.
At the formative stages of a child’s development, it’s important to expose them to situations that can trigger particular emotional responses so they can learn how to deal with their feelings in a safe, controlled environment.Dramatic play creates these settings, providing a space where a child can learn to self-regulate and manage their emotions in different scenarios.
Examples might be a role play of an argument between two friends or a pretend interaction between a mother and her son that involves sharing some bad news. Whatever the situation, acting out unpleasant or uncomfortable emotions can help to prepare a child for a time when they experience them for real.
Conflict resolution skills
Most dramatic play situations will include some sort of problem that needs to be resolved, making them a great way for kids to learn how to act in social situations whilst parents learn a little bit more about their child’s temperament.
It’s healthy to put a child into challenging social scenarios, where they are forced to engage, collaborate and work to a conclusion with other children in this safe dramatic play scenario. This will make any disagreements with friends, classmates or siblings easier to overcome as they will have had chance to practice how to resolve conflicts effectively, without letting their emotions get the better of them.
Especially with children who are a little more socially reserved, dramatic play can be a great way for them to express themselves in a controlled environment, free of judgement.
When engaged in a role play or make-believe game, kids can create characters and express themselves in ways they wouldn’t in their usual lives. It can prove to be a great stress reliever as any pent-up energy is used during play.
Moreover, allowing your child to communicate their emotions or feelings in this way can highlight anything they might need a little more support with. For example, they might be anxious about making friends at a new school or embarassed by a silly comment made by a classmate. Whatever the reason, dramatic play can make it easier for shy children to let their parents and carers know that something isn’t quite right before it has a chance to snowball into a far larger issue.
Developing creative thinking
There’s no better way to encourage a child’s brain to work creatively than for them to be put in settings outside of their day-to-day life. In a controlled environment, you’ll be surprised at the sort of narratives a child can create whilst using their imagination during play.
Encouraging your child to leave any reservations at the door and let their powers of imagination run wild help them get the most out of a dramatic play session and, who knows, it might even prove entertaining for you, too!
A physical outlet
Whilst it’s a great way for little ones to decompress mentally, the nature of dramatic play can be really good for them to blow off steam, too. They could enact a viking voyage, pretend to be intrepid explorers discovering new worlds, or even embark on their very own mission to outer-space! Whatever they choose, running around and throwing all of themselves into the drama will be sure to tire out even the most energetic of children.
Read our dedicated blog post to learn more about the physical benefits of play and help your child stay fit, healthy and happy.
Language and literacy development
When acting out role plays with siblings and friends, or even with yourself, children are encouraged to use their words in order to communicate ideas, pretend to be a particular character, and respond to different prompts.
For slightly older children, reading through a simple script can help massively with literacy skills and support them as they work to contextualise language within social interactions. For younger children, pretend play can be a fun way of incorporating core learning into their daily routine by introducing new words and leading them to practice forming sentences correctly.
Want to learn more about this? Our child development experts share more insights about the intellectual benefits of play in a dedicated blog post. Whilst you’re here, you can also explore some more of the best activities to encourage language development with your child.
How can parents encourage dramatic play?
The role of a parent or adult in children’s play is important, and whilst some parents may feel like dramatic play should be left entirely to the children, it’s a great opportunity for some quality 1-to-1 time.
Children love when they feel like their parents are present in their playtime, and it’s a fantastic setting for a parent to bond with their kids and in turn, know them better. This may feel slightly awkward for some parents, but it’s worth the effort and can further solidify that bond.
Incorporate their interests
Every child has something that they are fascinated by, whether it’s cars, make-up or animals. If you try and encourage dramatic play around themes that they’re interested in, you’re bound to get the most out of these sorts of sessions!
Make and buy play items
This one can take a bit of time, but it’ll be hard for your child to not want to play a character with a cool prop in the mix. Want to be a doctor? Grab a stethoscope. A pirate? Well, you’ll need a hat. Maybe they want to play parents, in which case you might want to get them a lifelike doll and a dolls pram!
The best way to get dramatic play is to start it yourself! Whether it’s being a character or playing out a scenario, your child seeing you behave in this way will inspire them to do the same.
Encourage dramatic play with Play Like Mum
It’s natural for children to mimic their parents, after all, your children want to be just like you! At Play Like Mum, we have a selection of doll’s pram sets and doll’s pram accessories that are the perfect addition if your child wants to play pretend as a parent, or as we say; Play Like Mum
Everyone wants the best for their children, and you can have it! Check out our other guides to play to learn more about what makes play so important and how it can better your little one’s life.