As we continue on our journey based on the emphasis of Illinois Child Care Assistance Program (CCAP), focusing on high-quality early childhood programs, this week we are going to explore the dramatic play center. This area is an essential part of the preschool classroom designed to inspire creativity and imagination. Dramatic play allows children to explore different roles and situations. Playing with materials that adults use in everyday life helps children learn about their community, their environment, other cultures, and a variety of careers. Again, there are four areas of development at work.
1. Social-Emotional Development
The first key area of development, social-emotional, helps children learn new ways to express themselves, by sharing thoughts and ideas and exploring their feelings. By recreating some of their own life experiences, they learn to cope with hopes and fears. Children learn to cooperate with peers and control their impulses. In fact, children who engage in dramatic play are less aggressive than children who do not participate in imaginary play.
2. Language Development
Dramatic play allows children to experiment with and learn about the second area of development, the power of language. Staging the area with various props (pet store, barber shop, ice cream parlor, bakery, fire department, etc.), help children extend their imagination and vocabulary. Different roles require children to strengthen effective peer communication. Many centers ensure children have access to a print-rich environment with books, recipe cards, signs, writing pads, blueprints, and other creative materials. Dramatic play also builds comprehension by allowing children to act out familiar stories. They gain an understanding of character development, story structure, theme, and timing. Just imagine the possibilities when children reenact the story of the “Three Little Pigs.” All the areas of development are highlighted when children read the book, create and decorate the set, and memorize the script. In addition, children must negotiate who will play which part and work as a team to pull it all together. Creativity and imagination are at their best!
3. Cognitive Development
With cognitive development, children acquire a deeper understanding of the world around them. They are tapping into their creative side, learning to self-regulate their temperaments, being flexible as they work together, and learn persistence.
4. Motor/Physical Development
A fourth key area of development is fine motor/physical coordination. As children button and snap on various career outfits, write down an ice cream order, or dress a baby doll, their skills strengthen. Gross motor skills develop as children pretend to fly like their favorite superhero or crawl around pretending to be a cat or dog.
Quality childcare programs always recognize parents as a child’s first and most important teacher. Parents can encourage the same imaginative play at home as teachers do at school. Draping a sheet over a table creates the best house or hideout for your little one! A large, empty box can be engineered into almost anything. Your child’s imagination is the limit as it transforms into a castle, pirate or space ship, train, or maybe a dog house. So, the next time you unexpectedly have to invest in a new appliance, don’t throw that box out. It has a second life as a castle or whatever your child can imagine! When you participate in imaginary play with your child, you are teaching important life skills and strengthening the bond between you and your child. So be a child again and let your imagination soar!