How do you set the scene for dramatic/imaginative play? Most early childhood environments have a "home living" center within their classrooms. Usually, this center is equipped with dress up clothes, kitchen appliances, toy food and dinnerware, and often baby dolls and accessories. I think every early childhood dramatic play center should have those things. But, do you offer more? I like to decorate my dramatic center to go along with whatever theme we're learning about. A few simple props and maybe a big box or a sign, and you are ready for some great imaginary play!
I've heard teachers say that they just don't have the additional space, but really, it doesn't take much to make a space feel inviting for imaginative play. A simple prop box that can be pulled out, coupled with a little sign on poster board, can make a portable change of environment. Use and re-purpose items at hand. I often use our large wooden hollow blocks for a variety of things, from store shelves to desks to horse corrals! Paper trees can be added to windows or mirrors to simulate an "outdoorsy" feel.
Here are 20 simple themes for dramatic play that can be easily implemented, with little cost, space or time.
This portable center is housed in a little basket, filled with an old hair dryer, a few curlers, combs, brushes, mirrors, and hair accessories. The children can pull out the basket and set up the sign whenever they wish.
Outdoor Sidewalk Cafe
This idea is so simple and portable, that we used it outside, too! Just a sign and a few writing supplies for taking orders and a few dishes and trays, and the kids were in business running an outdoor sidewalk cafe!
Another "prop box with a sign" center, the doctor's office can easily be pulled out and set up independently by the children. This basket has a toy doctor's kit and a couple of children's lab coats and scrubs.
We frequently have "stands" in our dramatic play center. I use hollow blocks to set up shelving and line the shelves with items appropriate to each stand. A poster board sign, a sign on the back of a cabinet/shelf or a tri-board work well.
This stand has a cash register, a few writing accessories for pricing and taking orders, a phone and some artificial pumpkins and gourds.
A couple of blocks, some artificial fruit, a phone and a cash register put together can make a simple, but effective fruit stand.
Blocks, a sign, writing materials, a cash register, a phone and some empty coffee cans can make a really cute little florist shop. Kids can arrange, sort and buy/sell flowers just like the professionals!
Hot Cocoa Stand
This center is definitely a favorite for the kids, and needs very few props. A couple of recycled hot chocolate boxes, a few cups, spoons, cotton balls for marshmallows, a tea pot for hot water, a cash register and a sign provide hours of inventive play for my students.
This center has a cash register, a sign, blocks for shelves and a few toy animals.
Children's pop-up play tents make a wonderful change of environment. Simply cover the tent and decorate to accentuate the theme.
Fairy Tale Castle
After covering this little play tent with paper to make an igloo, we added a walrus we'd made and a little ice fishing station.
Sometimes, a few decorations to the kitchen area of the dramatic play center is all that is needed.
Memorial Day/Veteran's Day
This teacher added patriotic decorations, picnic supplies and a military uniform for a simple and festive center.
Occasionally, our dramatic play settings are a little more elaborate and take more space.
These teachers covered the sink/cabinet area of the home living center. They even included MRE (meals-ready to-eat) pouches for food!
This was the setting in one of our toddler classrooms. The children helped paint the backdrop and helped with many of the decorations.
In another classroom, the teacher borrowed a ficus tree from the lobby and incorporated it into the decor.
The teachers in this class cut a large box into a horse shape and had the children help paint it. A stool placed in the middle of the box made for a perfect seat to "ride the horse"!
This is such an easy center to put together and it really fosters writing! Kids that seldom want to go to writing center will often go to "post office" and practice writing skills there!
Home On the Range/Wild West/Ranch
As you can see, I change the way I do this year to year. One year, I made horses from paper and dowel rods. I make a little trough for the horses from a plastic storage container and fill with hay. A campfire made from paper and a couple of sleeping bags add to the "camp"y feel.
I added paper trees in the backdrop, a couple of bear caves, a cash register and some hotel registration cards to make this Wilderness Lodge registration area. Once you get registered, you can easily get to your campsite!
Another way to add dimension to dramatic play is with a cardboard box. I like to get a good sturdy appliance box and cover and re-cover it throughout the year.
This box has been covered and decorated as many things this year, but the bear cave was a big hit! The children love to snuggle with the bear and read, talk, or just hang out!
The box is the "station", sleeping bags for sleeping quarters and there's even a paper fire pole!
Same box, same red paper, with a little adjustment!
Most of these ideas require little to no extra cost. Ask parents for donations or loans of items they may have at home. I love to get the kids to offer suggestions about how we can transform a setting. They have amazing ideas---and often suggest things we might not have thought of! Have fun and be creative!
Is there an interesting or imaginative way that you have transformed your dramatic/imaginative play area? We'd love for you to share it with us in the comments!
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