Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Transforming Dramatic Play Spaces: Why We Don't!




When we first began our partnership in Kindergarten, a popular trend in the classroom was a reconstructed dramatic play area. Often times a classroom will have a dramatic play space that includes a kitchen, table, food or loose parts and babies. In many beautiful Reggio inspired spaces educators will include materials that are real (e.g., metal pots, real utensils, empty food containers).

Through workshops and online communities educators would share ways that they were transforming their dramatic play spaces into airports, hospitals, veterinarian offices, or restaurants. It was incredible to see the transformations. We believed that they were visually appealing and therefore children would be drawn to them. 

We ourselves began to transform our dramatic play space and co-construct different spaces with the children. We would often do a survey or brainstorm with students “what should we transform our dramatic play area into?" They would always come up with great ideas and make connections to their interests or personal experiences.

After selecting an idea with the children or based on what we noticed as a common trend in children’s learning we would embark on the transformation phase. First we would brainstorm, what do we need in a _________.

Then we would start to collect the props and materials with the children. We would often spend time in the art studio creating things that we may need too. This process took days and consumed a lot of our time which made it difficult to manage other learning happening in the room. 

Then, after all of the time and energy spent in the creation phase we would notice a spike in interest and engagement (so much that we often found ourselves limiting the area or coming up with a sign up system with students). 

What did we notice?
After the initial engagement, we found that the play often was disconnected or parallel in nature. The children more often than not lacked the context to engage in the dramatic play without the leadership of an educator. 

We would support them in their play by fostering their understanding of how to take on different roles, how to engage with the materials with purpose and intention, how to sustain the back and forth nature of play, how to problem solve throughout play and how to extend the play that was happening. 

We reflected back to the time that we created an airport with the children. They made a plane with seats, tickets and passports. But when it came time to play, they struggled to negotiate roles and were unsure what to do. Most of them had never been to an airport and even though we read stories and talked about it they had a hard engaging in the dramatic play.

Similar to this was our veterinarian office. Most of the children had some experience with a pet or animals, but many had never been to the vet. This makes sense since many times when animals go to the vet they are sick and families may not always bring their young children with them. Again, we modelled and played alongside children but found that they had difficulty sustaining the play without us.

But...why?
We talked about all of this! Why was it happening? Did we need to build more context or choose more relevant ideas?

Our conversation also involved a reflection on the time spent creating and setting the stage. Was this structured and somewhat adult driven process a good use of time?

We found value in the process of creation and noticed that we could often teach new techniques or language during the process.

However, we also found that the process took up a large amount of time and then the area faded in interest quite quickly often.

Finally, we found ourselves spending more and more of our own money during the creation process.

So...how did we move forward?
We know there is value in the process of creation. We know children love to role play and use their imagination.

We also know that changing the dramatic play space into something new constantly can be overwhelming for a child who wants the familiar dramatic play home materials back and/or for those who lack interest in what was chosen.

We no longer spent time brainstorming with children what we should transform our centre into each month. In fact we stopped the total transformation all together.

If we noticed an interest that was genuine and accessible to the children (e.g., firefighting). We would gradually over time develop and collect props with the children and add them to a large basket between our building and dramatic play area (they are connected).

We often slow down and think about what is in our local community. When we created a fire station, we made visits to one that was just around the corner and the students were able to connect their experiences to our visits, discussions, and learning. The more exposure and context the children have the richer their dramatic play experiences become!

This new process provided the children with two things:
  1. The opportunity to create, collect and develop new materials to use in their dramatic play.
  2. The opportunity to set up the materials or use them when they wanted to (not every single day).

This process brought together the best of both worlds for us. It took away that monthly or bimonthly pressure to create something new, but still provided our children with opportunity to be a part of the creative process and use the materials at their discretion. If they wanted to set up a fire station they could, but if they chose to build a castle that day they at least had the option!

Finally, we really focused on ensuring that if we put out materials for the children to use and build with they had a context for the play!

We noticed many children pretending to fight fires in the classroom and they were often building a firetruck in our dramatic play space. 

We actually planned a field trip to our local fire station to support the students in seeing the roles in action! The children were able to closely study the trucks and tools at the fire hall.

After learning about how firefighters use maps at the station, the children created their own maps to add to their dramatic play props.

We also invited a firefighter to come into our classroom where the children had an additional opportunity to look closely at the tools and uniforms that the firefighters wear. They prepared and asked questions that also supported their understanding and built context for their play.


Again, we didn’t change our building or dramatic area permanently into Fire Station. We want our students to have options, but we provided the props and they would often spend time creating new things as they discovered that they needed them!

The children created and took apart this station whenever they were interested in role playing. Some days they would choose to build something different instead!


Our decision to stop pressuring ourselves and our students to transform these areas has been a really positive one for us as educators. We feel as though we can still engage with the parts of the process we found valuable, yet we are more focused and efficient in the way that we approach it all!


Interested in learning more with us this summer! We have a large selection of webinars for educators - be sure to check out our current Early Bird Contest on Social Media for your chance to win great prizes!

http://passionatelycuriousinkindergarten.blogspot.com/p/webinars.html