Anyone who walks into a preschool classroom might notice a small pretend kitchen area, filled to the brim with pots, pans, dress up clothes, pretend food, plastic cups and plates. This is what is known as the dramatic play center – an area of learning that plays an important role in early childhood education.
As a preschool teacher myself, I have often had to regulate the dramatic play center more so than others in my classroom. This is mostly because, next to the playground, it is seemingly the most popular place for children of this age to play in. Spend an hour in a preschool classroom and you too will notice that children of this age tend to flock to that center probably more than most others.
Dramatic play offers a variety of opportunities for learning and is based upon a fundamental aspect of preschool – children of this age primarily learn through play. To a child who is learning about outer space, a pretend telescope, keyboard and an old cell phone function as a command center for their space shuttle – that is about to blast off to the moon! Similarly, when learning about nutrition, children in the dramatic play center can pretend to cook a healthy meal from pretend food, and then enjoy it with their friends. Dress up clothes, wigs, hats and props offer another great treat for children in preschool. These items allow children to transform themselves into clowns, rock stars, carpenters, doctors, or police officers. There is nothing more interesting to a preschooler than to watch themselves in the mirror as they turn into different characters!
Despite the popularity amongst children, the importance of dramatic play in early childhood is probably not emphasized as much as it should be. In education nowadays, the focus tends to be more and more on reading and math, as standards become higher and expectations soar. State testing standards produce more pressure than ever on children and teachers, and this pressure is starting to surface as early as Kindergarten. As a result, preschool is seemingly one of the last occasions in a young child’s life where they can truly learn through exploration and play. It is the place where their imagination is cultivated through their creativity. As adults, parents and educators, we must be advocates for children, especially young children. To undermine the importance of dramatic play in preschool would truly be a mistake. If you have not already, spend an hour or two in a preschool classroom and you will most definitely agree.