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    by Maria Denholm December 06, 2021 5 min read

    Children spend most of their time engaging in some form of play. 

    As children get older, their play gets more complicated and expressive. Usually, they begin to create imaginative role-playing games from the age of four. This is commonly known as dramatic play. 

    Dramatic play occurs when children play parts in pretend scenarios or act out a familiar story. For example, they may mimic their home life by playing family in the kitchen area. One child may act as the parent while other children play roles like "the baby" or "the kitty."

    Children may also develop some pretend scenarios based on books, tv shows, video games, or movies that they have seen, such as The 3 Little Pigs.

    Why Dramatic Play Is Important

    When children engage in dramatic play, they develop cognitive skills like storytelling and sequencing logical events. Children also develop fine and gross motor skills by putting on costumes and manipulating props. 

    However, social skills are widely considered the most essential skills children explore during pretend play. 

    Social Skills Developed Through Dramatic Play

    By engaging in role-play, children gain the ability to form connections and collaborate effectively with their peers. In addition, when a group of children engages in creative, pretend play, they build emotional intelligence and communication skills. 

    Emotional Intelligence 

    Emotional intelligence is the ability to be aware of one's emotions and navigate interpersonal relationships with thoughtfulness and empathy. 

    When children engage in dramatic play, they are: 

    • Exploring creative problem solving, storytelling, and group collaboration.
    • Learning to negotiate and resolve conflict independently. 
    • Taking the feelings of others into consideration. 
    • Analyzing social cues and reading body language. 

    Let's take a look at a few examples: 

    • Two children want to cook food in the play kitchen. They look in the cabinets and find bread, fruit, and juice. They decide to pack lunches for a picnic. 

    They are working together to create a realistic scenario. 

    • Four children are playing superheroes on the playground. Two children want to play as Spiderman, and a disagreement arises. After arguing for a few minutes, they can decide that there can be two Spidermen or that one can be Spiderman today and the other can be Spiderman tomorrow. 

    These children are practicing how to negotiate and resolve conflicts.

    • Two children are playing with cars on a small track. One child accidentally pushes the other's race car off the track. When the second child begins to cry, the first child realizes they are sad because their car fell off. They say, "Oops. That was an accident," and place the race car back on the track to continue to play. 

    The first child is paying attention to the feelings of his playmate. 

    • A group of children is playing "family." One child acts as the parent while others are a baby, dog, and sister. The child playing as the baby pretends to cry and wipe their eyes. The parent notices and finds a bottle and asks the baby if they are hungry. 

    The child acting as the parent is reading the baby's behavior and attempts to respond appropriately. 


    Roleplaying gives children an abundance of opportunities to strengthen oral and written communication skills. 

    When children engage in dramatic play, they are:

    • Asking and responding to relevant questions.
    • Describing actions, setting, or purpose.
    • Practicing mark-making, drawing pictures, or writing. 

    Let's take a look at a few examples: 

    • A pair is building a tower with blocks. One asks the other where they should put a large arch-shaped block. The other responds by saying it looks like a door, so they rearrange a few blocks to put a doorway to their building. 

    These children are asking questions and engaging in dialogue that is directly related to their task.  

    • A child is collecting sand into a bucket on the playground. They find a stick and begin to stir the sand in the bucket. They tell a nearby playmate that they are making soup and ask if they want to try it. When the playmate says yes, the child says, "Ok, but it's hot so let me cool it down." They blow on the tip of the stick before holding it out to their friend.

    The first child is clearly describing their actions to give context.

    • Three children are playing "restaurant." One child sits down at the table and asks their playmate what there is to eat. Their friend, acting as a waiter, says, "Hold on. We need a menu." They take a piece of paper and crayons and draw pictures of spaghetti and hamburger. Next to it, they write "S" for spaghetti and "H" for hamburger. They take the menu to the first child. The customer then orders a hamburger.

    The child acting as a waiter is using pictures and letters to convey meaning. 

    How Adults Can Encourage Dramatic Play

    Children do not engage in dramatic play exclusively with their peers. They also enjoy role-playing with their parents and other familiar adults. There are several ways that grown-ups can encourage children to engage in creative play. 

    Observe Them Play 

    Take notice of the toys or interests that hold their attention. For example, a child who never interacts with dress-up clothes might not be willing to participate in games that involve costumes. 

    Provide References 

    Children often mimic stories they see in books, tv shows, or movies. Read several books with them and allow them to watch an appropriate amount of video content. A little screen time is just fine. 

    You'll soon see your child engaging in play that mirrors familiar stories. For example, they may search the house looking for small, big, and "just right" things to play "Goldilocks." 

    Narrate Your Actions

    Children also mimic the behavior of their family members and other close associates. While making dinner, talk your child through the steps. "I'm putting the chicken on your plate. We're eating chicken for dinner." 

    You may soon see your child "cooking chicken" in their toy kitchen.

    Be A Supporting Actor 

    Sometimes children want to engage in dramatic play but are reluctant to initiate role-play scenarios by themselves. When this happens, you can make suggestions to help give them ideas. 

    For example, if a child is making car noises, you can sit next to them and say, "It sounds like you're driving somewhere. Let's go together." The child might then create a scenario where they drive to the store. 

    It's important to note that this strategy is most effective when adults follow the child's lead. Play along when they expand on your suggestion, but don't force it. Pushing an idea the child is disinterested in will cause them to disengage. 

    Be Dramatic

    Creative role-playing allows children to explore and develop cognitive, social, and language skills. As a result, dramatic play is a precious tool in the home and classroom. 

    If you want to help your child grow, add a little bit of drama to their day.