Dramatic Play: Everyday Life as a Learning Tool

While I am not an expert on dramatic play, I observe our toddler engaging in it on an almost daily basis. This activity takes place when a child performs or imitates everyday life scenarios and situations. I want to share a few “real life” play ideas and provide reassurance that it really is a good thing when our toddlers empty their drawer of freshly folded laundry…even if we mommies want to cry and pull our hair out.

Through everyday play, our children are developing socially, cognitively, and emotionally. Dramatic play gives them the ability to recreate real life events through their own interpretation. This is a healthy way for our children to express feelings, solve problems and use their creativity through actions and words. I found a nice article on the Early Childhood News site and took the following excerpt from their dramatic play article:

“…“home living” is a favorite area among young children. There is no wonder at this interest area’s popularity. A young child’s family and home are the biggest part of his or her world. The imitation of what happens there and in the world around them is the central focus of how children play. Children act out and explore the lives of people by acting out their work, their feelings, and their words.”

At home, my husband and I use dramatic play as a teaching tool to develop healthy habits such as brushing teeth or as a way to find out how our son feels about something, like taking a bath. All of these activities are self led and prompted by his curiosity or interest. We encourage this play by allowing him access to certain items found in our house. We do not stop him or interrupt as he examines his toothbrush and uses it as a noisemaker or helps it “bounce” across our sink while singing before brushing his teeth. If he decides to drag his plastic bathtub out of our bigger bath for the pretend washing of his clothes or to giggle as he pours non-existent water over his head, we reinforce his actions through supportive phrases, questions, or participation. He doesn’t always use items for their original intent, either. For example, the blue tub has been used as some sort of vehicle accompanied by motor noises and we simply support his creativity. Our son’s school also encourages dramatic play and has a full setup and play area dedicated specifically for it. Here are some picture examples of dramatic, everyday play from our home:

1. Folding and Placing Laundry

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2. Washing Clothes and Taking a Bath

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3. Taking Care of the Baby and Parenting

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4. Brushing Teeth

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5. Waking Up and Answering the Phone

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For a more detailed explanation of the benefits of dramatic play, visit the Early Childhood News page. You will also find a nice, comprehensive list of toys to enhance everyday play for your child. Even though this article focuses heavily on using kitchen play-sets and baby dolls, I would argue that dramatic play can take shape in imitating almost any everyday experience as shown above.

So, the next time you find your toddler dumping yet another load of freshly folded laundry, try to take a deep breath, turn on your smile, and find the learning experience in what is happening. Observe your child’s emotions and process while they are imitating your everyday chore. After all, you are the first and most important teacher they will ever have and they are learning more than you may realize.

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