Children learn much about the world through exploration and discovery; encouraging play helps children develop their own problem solving skills and social skills, as well as physical development. Offering children opportunities to play in a safe environment gives them the chance to develop skills necessary for school-readiness and important life-lessons.

Dramatic Play and the Developing Child

Children begin to understand how and why the world works as they explore. Often times in dramatic play— dress-up and role-playing— children act out scenes from their own lives, television, or books. These can be everyday routines of people in children’s lives or fantasy tales of good versus evil. In both types of dramatic play, children use their knowledge about how the world works to play.

Dramatic play encourages children to solve problems they see in the real world, and gives them a chance to work on social skills— empathy, sharing, and regulating emotions—while playing together. For example, a child who wants to play doctor must imagine what a doctor looks like, needs, and does. The child may imagine that a piece of tape is a Band-Aid or a stuffed animal is a sick patient. And children playing doctor together must negotiate who is doctor and who is patient. This simple activity requires abstract thinking, creativity, imagination, and cooperation, which are all crucial for learning.

How Should I Encourage Dramatic Play?  

Many dramatic play toys are smaller versions of what children see adults use everyday like tool kits, phones, kitchenettes, and dress-up. Think of things you use everyday at work or home and show your child how they work and why you use them.

In addition to- or as an alternative to buying dress-up clothes and toys, work together with your child to build or construct toys using recycled materials or old clothes. Visit for ideas on how to recycle cardboard, old clothes, or building material for kids’ toys!

Taking Dramatic Play Outdoors

Dramatic play does not always need to be indoors. For games that involve lots of action, heading outdoors can be a great way to get fresh air, exercise, and learn about the natural world.

Try out a predator-prey chase game instead of tag. One person chooses a predator animal (eagle, wolf, lion, etc.) and the other person chooses a prey animal (rabbit, deer, zebra, etc.). When the prey animal gets tagged and becomes “it” they have to choose a new predator animal and the predator has to choose a new prey animal. In addition to getting plenty of exercise, this game introduces children to basic food webs and ecosystems.

Taking a Time Out

We live in a highly structured world with deadlines, hectic schedules, and lots of digital devices. Unplugging and devoting time for play is important for healthy child development. Dramatic play offers a chance for children to learn skills important for school and life, while bonding with parents. So, put on a monkey mask and go have fun!

Contributed by Charlene L. Montaño Nolan