When someone thinks of dramatic play, they usually think of children pretending to be a nurse, doctor, construction worker, cook, customer, or cashier. However, these are only a few of the dramatic play themes you can include in your center. To stimulate children's imaginations and keep your dramatic play center interesting, try to be creative with your choices and routinely change up some of the themes in the center.
One of the best ways you can find a new and exciting dramatic play theme is by being aware of your surroundings. Pay attention to what children are interested in and what's happening in your community. For example, if there is a new movie theater being built in your community, incorporate a movie theater theme into your dramatic play learning center.
In Play Today: Building the Brain Through Creative Expression, Ann Barbour, PhD, lists a variety of ideas for themes, center arrangement, props, facilitating engagement, and related experiences. Here is the information she shares about turning your dramatic play center into a movie theater:
Movie Theater ThemeCENTER ARRANGEMENT
- Chairs or carpet squares
- Hat rack or standing pegboard with hooks
- Movie posters
- Small table
- Tape or large nonslip rug
- White sheet or window shade
- Mark the stage area with tape on the floor or a large nonslip rug. Alternatively, use your furniture to set this space apart from the rest of the center.
- Place several chairs or line up a row of carpet squares facing the stage for the audience.
- Set up a small table for the ticket counter.
- Add a hat rack or standing pegboard with hooks to hang clothing.
- Hang a white sheet or a window shade in the back of the stage area to serve as a screen.
- Post movie posters.
- Assorted clothing for the actors
- Cash register or money box
- Containers for concession snacks
- Empty raisin or candy boxes stuffed with newspaper and taped shut
- Jackets for the ticket seller and usher
- Microphones made from paper-towel rolls cut in half and topped with a golf or Ping-Pong ball
- Plastic or paper cups
- Play money
- Popcorn boxes, possibly with cotton balls or packing peanuts inside
- Projector made from a shoe box with a hinged lid, a half a paper-towel roll for the lens, and a plastic plate for the film reel
- Signage (Open/Closed, Coming Attractions, Ticket Prices) or a whiteboard and dry-erase marker for children to make their own signs
Outside the Play Frame:
- After rereading or retelling your students a favorite story, ask them what props they would need to make a movie out of it. Use their comments to add items to the dramatic play center.
- Alternatively, talk with children about their favorite movies or television shows. Focus on what they like about the plot and characters. Discuss how each movie has a beginning, middle, and end.
- Ask questions and make comments, such as the following: "It looks like they need a ticket-taker. Here's a basket you can put the tickets in." or "I wonder what snacks they sell at this theater."
- Ask questions and make comments, such as the following: "How much do tickets cost?" or "Thank you for showing me to my seat."
- Take dictation from children about their movie script.
- Dim the lights. Shine a flashlight or overhead projector light onto the stage.
- Videotape the children's movie. Play it back to encourage their comments and extend their play.
- Provide poster-size paper for children to work together in the art center to make movie posters and/or advertisements to display in the dramatic play center.
- Make popcorn with children, measuring ingredients together. Compare the volume of unpopped kernels with the popped corn.
- Shine a light on the sheet or screen suspended from the ceiling with enough room behind it for several children. Their actions will be projected onto the sheet so that the audience can see their shadows.
- Include a tape or CD of children's songs that children can sing along to and one or more microphones in the music center.
Bank, camping, airplane, bakery, fishing, hair salon/barber shop, library, optical shop, shoe store, and veterinarian clinic are a few of the other themes Barbour lists in her book. Be sure to browse our Dramatic Play section for a variety of materials and furniture you can use in your dramatic play center.