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Editor’s note: During this time of uncertainty, play is more important than ever. For more resources to help your family continue #PlayingAtHome, please visit radioflyer.com/playingathome.
Childhood play is a foundation of cognitive, emotional, and social learning. As an early childhood educator, I put a great amount of thought and effort into planning play scenarios that are both open ended and structured. Providing time, a dedicated space, and appropriate materials is essential to fostering rich play experiences.
A fun and busy example of this in my classroom is our Dramatic Play Center. I change the scene every few weeks to coincide with our learning themes. Often, it takes just a few key items to help get the play started, and I add and subtract materials along the way. The play area does not need to be large, but it does need to have the right materials and a few permanent items to work around. In my classroom, those permanent items are a table and chairs, kitchen playset, a set of small shelves, and a wall phone.
As we look ahead to summer and continue playing at home, you can create a similar area that works for your family and your space to continue to spark imagination and creativity with your own children. Here are a few examples of how our Dramatic Play Center transforms throughout the year – ideas that can easily be adapted to playing at home!
- During our Community Helpers unit, we open a hospital nursery complete with isolettes (plastic bins). In each isolette is a baby doll along with a blanket, diaper, bottle, stethoscope and thermometer, notebook, and pencil. We hang up a few lab coats and keep plenty of bandaids on hand.
- In November, we set the table for Thanksgiving dinner. We gather a fancy tablecloth, flowers, silverware, cups and plates, electric candles, and lots of play food. Our favorite item is an inflatable turkey that is stuffed into the play oven many times. Blocks are often brought in to build highchairs for the babies in the family.
- The Post Office is always a favorite theme. We set up boxes in various sizes, string, stamps and an ink pad, a mailbag, pencils, paper, and envelopes. A mailbox can be constructed quickly with an old shoe box. Our wheelbarrow makes an excellent delivery truck!
- The JK Cafe opens for business with a tablecloth, aprons, chefs hats, menus, play food, and a cash register. There are many phone calls to answer for take out orders!
- Let’s Go Camping is an awesome way to wrap up our year. We set up camp with a rug of grass, small logs for a fire, sticks for fishing poles or roasting marshmallows, two child sized plastic Adirondack chairs, old lifejackets, and a wrapping paper tube to use as a canoe paddle.
- Our Radio Flyer wheelbarrow is on hand to become an ambulance, delivery truck or whatever can be imagined. A cash register comes and goes and a few dress ups are always available, usually a few old shirts and scarves. While playing, the children are counting and working through mathematical problems in their heads, learning social skills, practicing turn taking, developing impulse control, strengthening memory, and building imagination and creative thinking skills.
We spend the first few days of each unit playing with the children to spark ideas to help them get started. Once the center is up and running, I also carve out a few minutes at the start of the activity for the children to talk among themselves about their ideas on the roles they want to play. It is often chaotic at first but if we give it some time, the play settles down and becomes meaningful and developmental.
We often see play evolve differently than we as adults had anticipated--a joy to see! By setting the scene and providing the props, we can watch imagination and creativity happen.