So you want to add a dramatic play area to your home but you’re overwhelmed and don’t know where to begin? Getting started with Dramatic Play with your toddler and preschooler is easier than you think! Keep reading for some of my best tips and tricks to help you get started. But first, let’s chat about why Dramatic Play is so beneficial for our little learners!
Benefits of Dramatic Play
I’m such a big fan of Dramatic Play for children because it’s full of possibilities for loads of different play-based skill development. Below are just some of the ways Dramatic Play will support your child’s development!
- Fine motor skills
- Pre-writing skills
- Beginning math and reading skills
- Language development
Children learn best through play and Dramatic Play areas allow learners to use knowledge from their life experiences, things they have seen on movies or television and their imagination through their play.
Dramatic play also lends itself to role-playing which is another great task for children to be involved in. Children practice their language skills, pre-writing, beginning math and reading skills and so much more while they role-play in the dramatic play area. Even if your child isn’t ready to write, they can use the forms to scribble and take notes which is a pre-writing skill in itself – they’re learning about mark making and how we make meaning from these marks!
Getting Started Can Be Simple!
I know you’ve probably seen a bunch of incredible Dramatic Play areas with loads of expensive props and large pieces of furniture but your can start simple. Your little learner will still reap all the benefits of dramatic play! In fact, I highly recommend you start very simply if this is new to you! When we started setting up Dramatic Play areas, we used a simple table and a four-cube shelf for the base of our areas like you’ll see in our Vet Clinic below!
As we discovered how much our children loved these Dramatic Play spaces, we decided to create our very own DIY Market Stand which you can read all of the instructions for here.
It can be tempting to go and buy a heap of fancy supplies but some of my go-to materials for many imaginative play spaces include a cash register (we love the IKEA one!), some clipboards and pencils, an old phone and some trays for sorting props into dependent on what theme you’re setting up. Dress ups also make a wonderful addition to any Dramatic Play area!
For food items when setting up a cafe or grocery store, look through your pantry and grab some cleaned-out containers like egg cartons, milk jugs, cereal boxes, etc. For medical props in your Doctor’s Surgery, use empty bandaid boxes, cloth bandages that can be reused, cotton balls, thermometers and other supplies from your medicine cabinet or dollar store. You don’t have to go out and buy a bunch of things to have a successful dramatic play area!
Want to grab the Farmer’s Market Dramatic Play Printables? Just click here!
How to Set Up for Young Children
You may be thinking, ‘Wow this looks like a lot of fun but I’m not sure if my child is old enough yet?” But they can! Just keep things nice and simple!
Set out only a couple of props, use a few printables and don’t overwhelm them with too many options. I also like to pick a dramatic play setup that they will be familiar with. The doctor’s office or a restaurant are great options for my kids because they have background knowledge of those areas. They can draw from life experiences to role-play and explore their new dramatic play area!
I’m going to share four of my favourite Dramatic Play areas for toddlers and preschoolers. These spaces can be simplified so that even the youngest of children can enjoy them!
Children will be familiar with what happens in a doctor’s office from their experiences going themselves, or maybe even from books they’ve read or shows they’ve watched. To create our simple Doctor’s Office for a 3 year old and a toddler, I used a simple bookshelf and table to make the reception area and then a table for the doctor’s bed and a shelf for all the supplies.
You can see that I used things from around our house for props: some books, a couple of plants and some cotton balls and syringes for medical supplies. Children can role-play the doctor, the patient or even the receptionist. Give them some baby dolls for patients so they have someone to treat if they are playing the doctor!
Check out the Doctor’s Office Dramatic Play set here.
Ice Cream Shop
Little learners will love playing in an ice cream shop Dramatic Play area and using their creativity to make yummy ice cream creations. Add play dough if you child is ready for that so they can make sundaes and other desserts in their shop!
This space features our DIY Market Stand which was made from 4 wooden crates. I use it in so many of my dramatic play areas! Change the signs to fit the theme and add some props on the other side and you are all set. For the ice cream shop, I gave the children a cash register and some ice cream play pieces and they were ready to play!
For the ice cream, I rolled up some balls of tissue paper for the different flavours. The toppings are pom poms and the sprinkles are pony beads. I made the cones by rolling paper into a cone shape and taping the side securely. I added in some bowls, scoops and spoons to complete the area.
Grab our Ice Cream Shop Dramatic Play set here.
A pet shop is so fun for children to buy or adopt pets. Use stuffed animals, a cash register and a few printables to make this Dramatic Play area for toddlers and preschoolers come together!
Little learners can role-play the cashier, customer or pet shop worker. I love using store themes in the area because it encourages our children to interact with others and practice their spoken language. You can also set up an area for a dog washing center like we did below!
Setting up a pizza shop is pretty simple and encourages your child to use their imagination, role-playing skills, verbal skills, beginning reading and writing skills and fine motor skills. They can be the cashier, pizza maker or even a customer!
Start with a table for a workplace and a shelf with all the props and you are set to go! I used the Melissa and Dough Pizza Set* and we love it! The pieces are felt and hold up well over time. Paired with a fancy red and white checkered table cloth*, this space really came to life!
Grab the Pizza Shop Dramatic Play set today!
Remember, your child just wants to play and interact. They aren’t looking for the fancy things or elaborate set-ups. Use what you have, role-play with them and watch them grow!
Your toddler or preschooler will have so much fun exploring their new area and developing loads of pre-academic skills and you’ll be enjoying a heap of quality time with your little learner. Happy play time!