Planning a Successful Dramatic Play Center in Child Care

Child Care December 03, 2015 Print Friendly and PDF

Dramatic play area
Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 license. Photo posted to Flickr by Diane Bales on November 23, 2015 with title "Dramatic play area".

Dramatic play allows children to express themselves and use creativity. It also introduces symbolic thinking and encourages cooperation among children. In a dramatic play center, children will often act out behaviors and actions they see in real life (such as shopping at the grocery store) as well as make-believe situations (such as a princess in a castle).

Setting Up a Dramatic Play Center in Your Classroom

Location: Good places for a dramatic play center might be near a block center or another area where children's play tends to be noisy. Ideally, the center should be bordered by shelves and/or other furniture (e.g., table and chairs, play refrigerator, etc.), or walls. Avoid placing the dramatic play center too close to the book area or other centers that require quiet concentration. 

Display: You can use shelves, plastic containers, hooks, shoe racks or hanging bags, coat racks, and wire baskets to display props in an orderly manner. Be sure to label items with pictures and words where necessary. Whenever possible, hang up costumes so children can see them more easily.

What a Dramatic Play Center Should Look Like

  • Storage: Store materials in bins or containers on low shelves that give children easy access. It may be useful to rotate prop boxes so children have the chance to explore a variety of dramatic play themes.
  • Well stocked with a variety of materials: Children can easily become bored with using the same materials over and over again. Many teachers like to use different prop box themes as a way of varying the types of materials for children.
  • Neat and organized: Children should be able to find the materials they want to play with without having to search through a lot of clutter. Also, if the center is organized, the expectation is that the children will help keep it that way.
  • Limitless: An inviting and well-stocked dramatic play center encourages children to be creative. Within reason, children should be allowed to follow their imaginations in their dramatic play.

Choosing Materials for the Dramatic Play Center

The dramatic play center should have a wide variety of open-ended materials to encourage creative thinking. Some examples include:

  • clothing (hats, scarves, shoes, dresses, etc.)
  • fabric (different colors and patterns)
  • masks and capes
  • boxes, purses, and luggage
  • writing materials
  • items for specific prop box themes
  • miscellaneous items such as a camera, sunglasses, wand, etc.

Keep in mind that the props and themes you choose for dramatic play should be appropriate for the ages and developmental levels of the children in the group. Younger children need more familiar everyday objects, such as kitchen items. Preschoolers and school-age children may enjoy more imaginative themes, such as castles or undersea adventures. Choose dramatic play props and themes that match the children's interests and coordinate with curriculum topics. 

For More Information

To learn more about dramatic play and other learning centers in child care, take a look at the following eXtension Alliance for Better Child Care articles:

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USDA / NIFA

This work is supported by the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture, New Technologies for Ag Extension project.