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The Power of Dramatic Play: What is dramatic play and why is it important in the early years?

As a child, you watch admiringly from the sidelines as you see the adults in your life living out their day-to-day lives, watching in awe at everything they do. 

From the simple things like, washing the dishes and preparing dinner - making a house a home. Through to seeing them tackle the seemingly insurmountable, like travelling to space and exploring the unknown. 

Then, through your own great imagination as a child, you long for the days where you too can do all of those things for yourself. So much so, that you spend your childhood lost in a world where you begin to create your own scenarios - playing teacher and checking off the register with your friends and teddy bears as your students, or, acting as Santa Claus - sneaking gifts at their bedside. Or, even taking your very own trip to the moon. 

Each of these childhood adventures holds so much more meaning than simple imagination at play. This is something known as dramatic play. 

“What is dramatic play?” we hear you ask. 

Well, in this blog, we’ll delve deeper into the power of dramatic play and what it is;  explore its importance in early childhood development; as well as the lasting benefits for children.  

What is dramatic play?

So, in answer to your question of “what is dramatic play” -  quite simply put, dramatic play is a form of imaginative play for children. Dramatic play is something that holds true value in our children’s development and it’s far more than playing dress-up with their friends. 

Dramatic play, also known as pretend play or role play, is an essential part of early childhood education. It involves children taking on roles and acting out scenarios, which can range from everyday situations - like playing house, to more imaginative scenarios, like pretending to be astronauts, firefighters, doctors, superheroes, or anything else that a child’s imagination can conjure up. 

This type of play is beneficial for children in various ways; allowing children to explore the world around them. 

Through the use of dramatic play, their imagination helps them make sense of their experiences and develop essential skills that will stay with them long after childhood.

Benefits of dramatic/imaginary play in the early years

Dramatic play and imaginative play for children have an incredible amount of benefits for little ones and is something that should be encouraged from a young age. It  plays a crucial role in the early years of a child's life and, when supported correctly, provides a safe and supportive environment for children to explore and make sense of the world around them.

Here, we’ve listed some of the many skills and developmental areas in which dramatic play plays a part in and why it should form a regular part of child play:

Social Skills: During dramatic play, children learn to negotiate roles, take turns, and cooperate with their peers. This helps in developing empathy and understanding different perspectives and therefore develops their social skills.

Language Development: Engaging in dramatic play encourages children to communicate their ideas, negotiate roles, solve problems and sometimes use technical terminology they have learnt/heard about the topic (e.g. stethoscope), thereby enhancing their language and vocabulary skills. We have another blog that discusses the importance of language development in young children; you can read it here.

Emotional Development: Dramatic play allows children to express their feelings, manage emotions, understand the emotional responses of others as well as showing empathy for the role they are playing (e.g. an ill patient).

Cognitive Development: Dramatic play promotes problem-solving skills, abstract thinking, and the ability to distinguish between reality and fantasy.

Motor Skills: Dressing up and manipulating props can help in developing fine motor skills.

Through dramatic play, children can recreate real-life experiences, process and regulate their emotions, and learn about different roles and responsibilities. You can read our other blog here to learn more about regulating emotions in the early years. 

Top tips for supporting dramatic/imaginary play at home

Beyond answering the question of “what is dramatic play”, we also want to help you understand how you can support imaginary play as part of your child’s playtime. 

As a parent or guardian, it’s natural to want to do everything in your power to support your child’s development. So, let’s learn about how you can best encourage your children to express themselves through the power of dramatic play. 

As the trusted adult in their life, it’s up to you to be the facilitator of dramatic play. By this, we mean that you should support your child/children with their imaginative play. This can be done by providing them with the necessary props (costumes, toys such as kitchen items/doctor’s bag, crafting items to create a spaceship for example) and encouraging them by giving the children space and freedom to imagine or by using positive phrases such as “I could see how much effort you have put into being an astronaut”. 

You also want to act as the observer over their imaginative play time - by keeping a watchful eye, it will help you to better understand their interests and helps you see how their skills are developing. Let them work things out for themselves and only intervene when it’s necessary or, if it fits in with their play narrative. 

And finally, it’s not uncommon for children to invite you into their world of imagination. So, be welcome to playing your part as an active participant. By assuming the role that they give to you within their dramatic play can work wonders in enriching their play experience as well as creating cherished memories with them. 

Creating an Effective Dramatic Play Area

Another key component to supporting imaginative play for children is to create an environment for it to thrive. To encourage dramatic play, an effective play area should include these three things:

  • Variety of Props: Offer a range of props related to different themes (e.g. kitchen items, doctor's tools, dressing up costumes, teddy bears). These don't have to be expensive or elaborate; everyday items can be really effective.

  • Flexible Space: A space that can be easily transformed into different settings (a castle, a supermarket, a spaceship) encourages imagination. By observing your children playing, as we mentioned above, will let you know what their interests are and what you could create for them.

  • Inclusion of Literacy and Numeracy: Incorporating books, menus, or cash registers can subtly integrate literacy and numeracy skills into play, all whilst keeping it fun.

So, as you see, there’s so much more to imaginative play for children than simply being a fun pastime. We hope we’ve answered your questions about “what is dramatic play” and introduced you to how you too can support and take part in your child's development and imagination. 

The world truly is your child’s oyster when it comes to dramatic play, so let their imaginations run wild. We were all children once and by encouraging and supporting their interests, you’re not only helping them in their early development, you’re playing the most important role or your own life - being a nurturing comforter that allows them to express their emotions and creativity within a safe environment. 


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