By acting out real or fictional situations through dramatic play (pretend play); children are working through their feelings and their understanding of the world. Dramatic play lets them process their perception of events and/or roles. For instance, if a child is playing house as the “mommy” – she is expressing her view of what “mommy” is and how she views the role. She is practicing how “mommy” would or could react to different situations. This play doesn’t necessarily represent her reality of the role, but rather her interpretation of “mommy” in this particular situation at this place and this time.
Socio-dramatic play (dramatic play with social interaction) lets children practice social rules. When playing alone there is no etiquette to follow, however when another child or adult is involved each party has to follow certain rules. Children playing “brother and sister” with children who are not their siblings, allows for experimenting with different interactions and testing how others will react.
Your child’s preschool should encourage both dramatic and socio-dramatic play. In fact a play-rich learning environment is essential. Classrooms should include “dress-up” areas to support children’s creativity and imagination. Teachers generally fill these areas with real-life props relevant to curriculum topics.
Interested in an example of how this all works? Let’s say the curriculum topic is numbers. Your child’s teacher might add telephones, calculators or cash registers to the dramatic play center because these props provide exposure to using numbers in realistic situations. Your child is learning to memorize his telephone numbers and this skill can be applied in the dramatic play center by teachers encouraging children to “call” each other; or when learning about money, your child may play “store” and take turns playing the roles of customer and shopkeeper with her friends.
Play is a child’s work – they are practicing. This practice is without judgment – they can rehearse roles, feelings and ideas in a completely uninhibited environment.