Dramatic play is an integral part of a child’s social, emotional and cognitive development, according to NAEYC. Here are five important aspects of dramatic play:
1. Dramatic play teaches self-regulation
Toddlers and preschoolers are known for acting impulsively, but dramatic play is a positive stepping stone toward self-regulation. NAEYC notes that children tend to be highly motivated to follow rules and stick to the roles of the play. This helps them grow in their ability to inhibit their impulses, coordinate with others and make plans.
2. Dramatic play gives children an emotional outlet
Dramatic play allows kids to act out scenarios they’ve seen or heard in real life, giving them an important emotional outlet. “Young children do not yet think internally,” explains Barbara E. Harvey, executive director of Parents, Teachers and Advocates. “Children use dramatic play to explore their own thoughts and feelings.”
This is especially important for children who have seen something upsetting or scary in their daily lives. Dramatic play gives them an opportunity to sort through difficult emotions and “practice being in the world,” according to Jones.
3. Dramatic play teaches conflict resolution
Both unstructured and structured dramatic play offer teachable moments about conflict resolution. Disagreements between children will crop up naturally during unstructured dramatic play, which offers a chance for kids to work through their differences and arrange a compromise.
Dramatic play encourages children to resolve conflict, consider alternative perspectives and recognize the various roles and responsibilities individuals have in our society, according to Child Care Exchange. Structured dramatic play encourages children to consider a specific problem and propose their own solutions.
4. Dramatic play supports literacy
Dramatic play provides a prime opportunity for kids to see “functional print”—like newspapers, signs or menus—in action, according to Scholastic. Kids who are playing grocery store, for example, will be exposed to text in the form of a shopping list, coupons and a checkout receipt. This gives them a chance to gain firsthand experience with the many ways we use text in everyday life.
Dramatic play can also increase reading comprehension. Kids often choose to act out scenes from a favorite storybook. This gives them a deeper understanding of the narrative structure and character motivations found in familiar stories.
5. Dramatic play allows you to support your kids and encourage their ideas
Like we said above, kids process their inner thoughts and emotions externally through dramatic play. That means you can learn a lot about what makes your kids happy, scared or frustrated just through observing their pretend play.
The next time you see your kids acting as pirates, firefighters or chefs, pay attention. This is your chance to foster ideas by asking open-ended questions or to help your kids work through difficult emotions, Harvey says.