When A One-Room Kitchen Is Not Enough: Our Evolving Thoughts On Dramatic Play

The one area of our classroom that is the bane of my existence is dramatic play. I love all of the ideas that I see online for this space. It always seems like such a wonderful plan to co-create this space based on student interests and to really link this space to the larger learning in the room. My teaching partner, Paula, and I have spent a lot of time this year listening to students in dramatic play, and we have tried to create this area with the children. From a restaurant to Lorax Land, we had such big hopes for dramatic play … but our reality has yet to be as spectacular as it first seems.

There are many components to this problem.

  • The interests do not seem to last. Maybe the issue is that the interests are not as big as they first appear to be. Or maybe the issue is that different conversations take the learning in a new direction, and the space becomes a lot less popular.
  • It’s beneficial to have an adult in (or near) this space, and when that doesn’t happen, the play changes. This is when the cats come out … quite literally. I have taught Kindergarten at multiple schools, and somehow, there are always cats. Maybe the cats are the interest. It seems as though the bigger interest is to crawl around, follow each other, and purr, and when the room becomes full of kittens, my instinct is to stop the play. Recently, I told Paula that I was tempted to post an “I’m allergic to cats” sign, and while I haven’t done so yet, I have been close. 🙂  I think it’s the wandering that I find the most problematic about these cats, and with a lack of oral language too, I question what the value of the cats may be.
  • The dramatic play extends all around the classroom. It’s so funny, as we actually love when children move items around the room and combine them in different ways. This is when we tend to see such rich, thought-provoking play, but our exception to this rule is dramatic play. As it moves to the Book Nook area, a quiet, peaceful space no longer seems as calm. Then we start to feel as though we’re policing areas, and that is never fun!

With all of this in mind, what do we do? For a while, we just left this space alone. Some children used it as a house. A few children used it as a theatre for plays. And some other children brought Lego over and used it as a creation space. The problem was that for most of the day, this area sat empty. With a small room and large numbers, having a wasted space was not beneficial, so as Paula said, “It was time to revive dramatic play!” We noticed that many of our students were playing house at the Before Care program in the morning, and some children, even made our Book Nook area into a house, so we decided to set-up a house again. 

Our students have made their own “house spaces” around the classroom, so on @paulacrockett’s suggestion (& a great one), we’re redoing dramatic play and bringing back the home. I went to @michaelsstores today to buy some Perler beads, & found this. It was a sign! 🙂 Now we have a new way to make food for dramatic play, & align the interest in beading with the interest in drama. I also found a big white board (for some possible phone messages) and made a class phone book: a little more math through play. Some new dishes, mugs, and glasses, a little cutlery, and even some pretty napkins may bring subitizing and counting into drama. Yippee!! Now let’s see what the children do come Monday. I can’t wait! #ctinquiry #iteachk #teachersofinstagram #earlyyears #fdk #art

A photo posted by Aviva (@avivaloca) on

A lot of wonderful happened in this space yesterday (even with a few cats 🙂 ) …

Writing with a purpose. So focused! #ctinquiry #iteachk #teachersofinstagram

A photo posted by Aviva (@avivaloca) on

and continued today.

But the problem was, it didn’t take long for dramatic play to extend beyond the play space.

Then I came back from the second nutrition break today, and a group of students were in the Book Nook area. They took the cushions off of the chair and made it into a bed. They used the tablecloth as a blanket, and they brought the books over to read quietly. They made a bedroom! I looked over at Paula and said, “I thought we didn’t want dramatic play to go over here.” We chatted briefly, and ended up having the students clean up and move back to the kitchen space.

The end of the day came though, and we had second thoughts. Children were being very purposeful in where they created the other rooms of the house. They made the Book Nook area, a quiet bedroom, and the carpet full of toys, the play room. Since a little drama is really involved in every space in the classroom — from the character roles that children take as they play with dolls, use action figures, retell stories, and engage in sensory bin experiences — maybe we have to rethink our space concerns. Would this learning also be richer if it was not restricted to a single area? 

We decided to wait and see what the children do tomorrow. Maybe we don’t stop the movement, but if there are problems in the different areas, we pose them back to the students, and see if they can help solve them. We use this strategy in many other cases. Why not use it here? We somehow managed to go from no dramatic play to a room full of it, but maybe this is what an evolution of thinking and learning is all about. What are your dramatic play experiences? How would you address this problem? The cats may still need to “live outdoors,” but I think that we can live with, and love, the rest.

Aviva

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