When we plan for and initiate opportunities for dramatic and imaginative play it delivers many benefits for children and also provides numerous learning outcomes.
Dramatic and imaginative play helps children to make sense of the world around them, use their imagination to explore real life events, increase their vocabulary, engage with different cultural materials, negotiate roles, make decisions and so much more!
I think you will agree it’s definitely worth putting in a little effort to ‘set the stage’ (this could include your entire learning environment both indoors and out!) Children often use play to further explore their current interests. Although children are very adept at using the materials and environment around them to create their own play it is sometimes nice to offer an additional invitation, prop or 'prompt' to play with the goal of extending a current interest and acknowledging that they want to explore and create and ‘act out’ what they are learning.
Try not to limit yourself, the children or the props and invitations to one corner of the room or space only (we don't want to encourage this phrase...that has to stay in home corner!).
I've put together a collection of ideas and tips below to inspire and enhance open ended dramatic play and encourage children to engage in imaginative play anywhere throughout your indoor and outdoor learning spaces.
Ready to explore and try something different in your room or planning next week? Let's do this Empowered Ed!
Simple Ideas for educators and parents to encourage dramatic and imaginative play
Puppets are a fun and interactive way to inspire imaginative play but they can be quite expensive to buy new. If you're feeling creative there are lots of DIY options (don't forget children love to help create puppets!) like the ones below. If you have crafty parents you could even ask them to help or to drop in some fabric and paper scraps 🙂
And a Puppet Theatre...
Now you have your puppets you need a theatre too! Here are a few different ones to use for inspiration.
Children also use their imagination when retelling familiar books and stories - why not use a story bag, basket or prop basket. See some great ideas HERE.
Shops, Cafes, Markets & More - Let the pretend play begin!
We asked our Empowered Ed Facebook Group members to share some of their pretend play areas and they didn't disappoint! See how they set up their indoor pretend play ideas below:
Ceinwen set up a simple shop - the cart is filled with scarves, loose parts, a cash register, doctor kit, dolls, etc.
The children loved helping me to set up our 'garden centre' shop and selling seeds and seedlings they planted to parents!
Then another day it became a market stall...
And then a library - make sure to check out your books before you leave!
Emily set up this inviting kitchen and dining space
A little 'silverware' always adds a touch of class to your outdoor tea party!
Karen turned her shop into a cake stall - doesn't that table look inviting - I absolutely love those crocheted cakes!
Jane put together this hair and makeup area. Cash registers are certainly moving up with the times aren't they!
We took our hairdressing and barber shop outdoors to add to the fun..
Kelly invites role play with this ice-cream shop (great idea to use pom poms for the scoops of ice-cream!)
A post office play space is always fun and doesn't need any expensive props!
We extended on the children's interest in how passionfruit grows with this outdoor shop space. The children directed their own play and also turned it into a truck delivery service and ball run!
Incorporate Babies, Dolls & Special Friends
Nicki set up an animal hospital - what a great way to put all those stuffed toys to use!
We often have fun with different variations on a vet and hospital theme just by introducing a few different 'props' each time. Our DIY felt 'bandaids' and 'plaster casts' are a popular way to keep the play interactive and engaging... yet simple and inexpensive!
Some other ways the children have enjoyed incorporating their special friends into our everyday dramatic and role play experiences! Simplicity is the key so a child's own imagination and thinking can lead the play in a way that makes sense to them.
Get creative with outdoor resources...
Mud Kitchens are always popular (we're loving this one from Sue-Ellen). You can find more mud kitchen inspiration HERE.
Don't forget the washing up! Tip an old doghouse upside down and you have a makeshift table at just the right height for that interesting mix of kitchenware. Reuse and upcycle!
Who doesn't love an outdoor office?
Community shopping outdoors...
Or building in the tool shed?
Need some ideas to invite open ended play experiences using everyday and upcycled materials? Click below for a FREE Empowered Ed Visual Action Guide...
Jenny set up a secret cave in her back yard. Who could resist investigating?
I love to find ways to set up secret spaces for the children to explore in their own way like this fairy garden...
Annette invited dramatic play with a camping theme - complete with campfire and are they sizzling sausages on sticks in the frypan?
What about some meatballs?
Reignite interest in fixed equipment and spaces with the simple addition of different props and open ended materials each week like I've done in the images you see below!
The outdoor learning environment offers a wonderful stage to inspire little imaginations through dramatic play outside. By adding a few simple props from either indoors or the yard itself and making varying arrangements to the regular outdoor play space and equipment educators and parents can stand back and watch the learning, social and emotional development, leadership, role play and conversations unfold organically. See some more ways to take your dramatic play outdoors HERE
Invite Imaginations into a Small World
Pretend play doesn't have to mean big setups and lots of props - children love using their imagination with small world play too.
See more of our favourite small world play ideas from Educators HERE.
How could you encourage or invite dramatic and imaginative play tomorrow?
A Little About Me
Jodie Clarke is an early childhood professional supporting educators who want and need to stay passionate about the work they do! She has 30 years hands-on experience in the early childhood and human services sectors across many different roles.
Jodie is mum to 3 in Australia and has already helped thousands of educators with their work through her popular blog posts, activity ideas, online training and e-books.