It is the second week our dramatic play area has been transformed into a train station complete with a ticket counter, travel agency with a United States Map and various travel kids travel books, a cardboard box has been turned into baggage x-ray machine for students to slide their luggage through, and seats have been lined up behind a Thomas the Train tent.
After a few moments examining the map, Robbie points to a man riding a horse in Texas and tells me he wants to go the Rodeo. We briefly talk about Texas, the weather, and look up in a book what else we could do in Texas. We grab our bags, pick out a couple of things we might need for our trip, and head over to the ticket counter where we tell the ticket salesman (who happens to be a stuffed dog today) that we want 2 tickets to Texas. Robbie practices writing his name and my name (both of which are just a serious of lines and scribbles at this point) on our dry erase tickets, we decide what seat numbers we would like to sit in, and we head over to security to x-ray our baggage.
What’s happening in our basement preschool is what most early childhood educators call dramatic play–a fantasy wold created by children, where their creativity blossoms, their oral and written language expand, their social skills develop, their number sense evolves, and their ability to mathematically reason and problem solve deepen. Dramatic play (or socio-dramatic play) in the early years is rehearsal for life! It is a way of investigating language, math, writing, problem solving, reasoning, and social skills, in a real and applicable way! There is so much research out there that points to the importance of structured dramatic play centers in the development of our young students.
Lets talk a little bit about what socio-dramatic play is. Pretend play, specifically socio-dramatic play, is a complex form of symbolic play with a social aspect (Athey, 1988). It involves at least two children mentally transforming objects and actions symbolically while conversing, negotiating, role taking, and improvising.
Here is just a tiny glimpse of the research available to support the importance of this aspect of the preschool classroom:
- Children’s mathematics achievement scores are related to their socio-dramatic play (Gmitrova and Gmitrov, 2003; Gül, 2006; Hanline et al., 2008; Lee, 2007; Matthews, 2008). The amount of mathematical gains correspond to the complexity of the pretend play. The more students are using their imaginations to substitute regular objects into pretend objects (i.e. pretending a friend is a dog vs. just using a stuffed animal dog) and the more complex scenarios they act out the higher the mathematical gains!
- Use of socio-dramatic play in the classroom increases language use (Lovinger, Sophie 1974) and increases writing skills (Boyle, B., & Charles, M., 2010).
- Social pretend play is a predictor for adult creativity (Sansanwal, S. 2014).
- Connolly and Doyle (1984) found that preschool children who engaged in more fantasy play were rated by teachers as being better at affective role taking
- “Children who engaged in more sociodramatic play were rated by observers
as expressing more positive and less negative emotions with peers, scored higher on emotional understanding interviews, and were rated by mothers as being better at emotion regulation 1 year later than were children who engaged in less sociodramatic play.” (Lindsey, 2013)
All of this information tells us that play is IMPORTANT and it isn’t something that should be considered “extra” to be cut to make room for more “academic” learning nor is it something that should be added into routinely boring activities to add entertainment. Pretend play is something that should be planned for and scaffolded by adults to enhance our children’s learning. We don’t need to buy a bunch of things to open up a pretend ice cream shop in our homes or classrooms! In fact, the research tells us the more our children are involved in making their own props from every day items, the more gains they are showing across the academic board. What better reason is there to empty out your laundry hamper and turn it into a boat, a cave, a bear trap, a house for the 3 little pigs, a shopping cart, etc.Today is the day to reclaim playtime.
Have fun playing and learning with your children today! For playtime or dramatic play center ideas check out these blog posts:
Athey, I. (1988). The relationship of play to cognitive, language, and moral development D. Bergen (Eds.), Play as a medium for learning and development: A handbook of theory and practice (pp.81-101). New Hampshire: Heinemann Educational Books Inc.
Boyle, B., & Charles, M. (2010). Using socio-dramatic play to support a beginning writer: ‘Daniel, the doctor and the bleeding ball’. International Journal of Early Years Education, 18(3), 213–225.
Connolly, J. A., & Doyle, A. (1984). Relation of social fantasy play to social com- petence in preschoolers. Developmental Psychology, 20, 797–806.
Gmitrova, J., & Gmitrov, V. (2003). The impact of teacher-directed and child-directed pretend play on cognitive competence in kindergarten children. Early Childhood Education Journal, 30 (4), 241-246.
Gül, M. (2006).“Anasınıfına Giden Alt Sosyo- Ekonomik Düzeydeki 61- 72 Ay Arası Çocuklara Sembolik Oyun Eğitiminin Genel Gelişim Durumlarına Etkisi.”Yayımlanmamış yüksek lisanstezi , Gazi Üniversitesi Eğitim Bilimleri Enstitüsü, Ankara.
Hanline, M. F., Milton S., & Phelps, P. C. (2008). A longitudinal study exploring the relationship of representational levels of three aspects of preschool socio-dramatic play and early academic skills. Journal of Research in Childhood Education, 23 (1), 19-28.
Karaman, S.& Ivrendi, A. (2015). Relationship among Preschool Period Children’s Mathematical Skills, Socio-Demographic Characteristics and Socio-dramatic Play. Education and Science Vol. 40 p. 313-326.
Lee, S. (2007). Trimangles and Kittens: Mathematics within socio-dramatic play in a New Zealand early childhood setting. Mathematics: Essential Research, Essential Practice, 2 , 876-878.
Lindsey, E. W., & Colwell, M. J. (2013). Pretend and physical play: Links to preschoolers’ affective social competence. Merrill-Palmer Quarterly, 59(3), 330–360.
Lovinger, Sophie (1974). “Socio–dramatic play and language development in preschool disadvantaged children”. Psychology in the Schools, July 1974, Vol.11(3), pp.313-320
Matthews, S. B. (2008). “The relationship among self-regulation, socio-dramatic play and preschoolers readiness for kindergarten.”Unpublished doctorate thesis, Northeastern University Counseling and Applied Educational Psychology, Boston.
Sansanwal, Shallu (2014). “Pretend play enhances creativity and imagination”. Journal of Arts and Humanities, Jan 2014, Vol.3(1), pp.70-83 [Peer Reviewed Journal]