Dramatic play allows children to explore their own interests and knowledge and place it into the reality of their world. Play that includes this type of exploration is known to contribute to intellectual and language development. In early childhood, drama needs no written lines to memorize, structured behavior patterns to imitate or the presence of an audience. Children need only a safe, rich environment and the freedom to experiment with roles, conflict and problem solving.
Opportunities for dramatic play are spontaneous, child-initiated and open ended. Individual expression is pivotal to all dramatic play which means that it appeals to all cognitive and physical abilities – it is inclusive to all young children. As with most learning opportunities for the young child, it is the process not the product that is the most important aspect. Dramatic play includes role playing, puppetry and does not require interaction with another person. It can also include the society of others and social interaction, but it is the child who determines how the play develops. Children will then direct, interact and develop story lines with others which can be peers or adults. Children frequently reenact a scene or story from their own lives or from other media (books, videos, TV, etc.). Play is the child's scope of work and dramatic play is one of the more vital types of play that should be available to children every day.
While dramatic play is typically most active in the toddler through preschool years, many children continue to use this type of play well into early grade school. Not only is the play a way to explore and problem solve their world it also is a way to destress. So the Kindergartner, first or second grader may need to use play to release the pressures of their day.
So now that we understand the value of dramatic play it's time to think about providing children with some space and props. This doesn't need to be complicated. In fact, simple is best because it allows children to manipulate their own materials. You can purchase all kinds of dress up sets, child-sized kitchens or other settings, gizmos and gadgets that are made just for children. However, you may want to have some very simple items on hand that work just as well and promote multiple uses. These could include a variety of sizes of cardboard boxes, old clothing and accessories that are clean (adult size clothing adds to the fun), kitchen or household tools that are safe and clean, an old luggage set, a mirror, old phone, plastic dishes or small sized pots, stuffed animals and dolls - these are just some of the ideas. Then they need some space to store props plus an area to really play and explore. A corner of the room with a small table and chairs could be a great place to start. I liked to use the luggage not only as a prop but as places to store items when not in use.
You'll be amazed what they can do with some cardboard, simple costume pieces and their imagination!