Learning at Home: Expanding Children’s Dramatic Play with Props

In the April 1 post, we discussed all of the amazing benefits of dramatic play. Dramatic play is SO critical to young children’s growth and development that I am going to recap one of the key benefits here:

Dramatic Play

There is documented research that demonstrates the high level of cognitive, social, and emotional benefits from children’s engagement in dramatic play.

Our goal is to help our children deepen their play experiences to engage in more complex play:

  • Plans elaborate themes
  • Play more than one role in the play scenario
  • Uses props symbolically (a block becomes a telephone, a pool noodle becomes a fire hose, a tree branch cut into 1/2 inch rounds become pancakes or cookie)
  • The play scenario takes play over multiple days
  • Incorporates the vocabulary of the scenario and incorporates ideas from books that have been read to him/her

When your child begins a play scenario and plays it over a couple of days (cooking in the kitchen, baking, grocery store, restaurant, vet, doctor, firefighter, traveling to space, taking care of babies, auto shop, hairdresser, school), begin to deepen the experience for him/her with additional props to help him/her delve into more complex play. Provide suggestions as you become a partner in the play but do not take over- let your child guide and lead you through the scenario.


Deepening Children’s Play by Adding Props
ScenarioIdeas for additional props to add to expand the play
Orthopedic Doctor
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Encourage the child to take on the role of the engineer who designs the equipment for rehabilitation (crutches, walker, sling, cast) Provide the child with stuff from a recycle bin (boxes, oatmeal containers, cardboard tubes, lids) and allow him/her to design OR encourage the child to take on the role of the physical therapist or occupational therapist and add in props such as icepacks, heat pads, exercise ball, weights, step stool
Auto Shop
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Encourage the child to begin to take calls from drivers that are stranded on the road- that cannot get into the shop for repairs and add props such as a big box to make a tow truck, empty, clean gas can, play tools, appointment sheet for phone numbers, play cell phone
Home Living
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If the child likes to engage in a lot of pretend cooking expand the utensils available by adding chopsticks, tongs, materials for cake decorating, wok, pie pan: then observe and notice- what direction is the child taking the play, if he/she starts decorating cakes, then you can begin weaving in play about decorating for weddings or birthdays, taking orders and selling the cakes, etc. OR Remove all plastic play food and add vase gems, dice, plastic or foam alphabet letters, building blocks, wood cookies (tree branches cut into round disks), and have fun observing the child’s creativity as the items become all kinds of different food. (remember to add items that are appropriate for your child’s age and developmental level so that they do not become a choking hazard.)
journeyintoearlychildhood.com Expanding Children’s Play with Additional Props