Many people have asked me why and how I change my pretend center in my classroom? This post is all about why pretend play is important, setting it up, creating student made props, building students' background knowledge, infusing literacy and math experiences into their play, and adding props or elements slowly each week to keep build their play.
Why is pretend play is am important center in a preschool or kindergarten classroom you ask or your principal may ask? What a loaded question but here is my short answer. Students develop self regulation during pretend play. Students have to share, take turns, wait, and express their feelings and ideas using appropriate language, gestures, and actions. These HARD skills for many 3, 4, and 5 year olds to do. The pretend play or dramatic play center is a great place for students to practice and build these social skills. The amount of language that occurs during pretend play is HUGE! Student have to listen to others and engage in conversations with others (receptive language) during their play. Students are also asking and answering questions with peers, acquiring new vocabulary related to the theme, and communicating conversationally with peers (expressive language) during play. And that is just the oral language and social skills they are building! You can add ENDLESS math and literacy experiences into their play too! I'll tell you more about that later.
Ok so now where do you start when you want to begin a new pretend play theme? First, I look at the calendar and see how long I want the theme to last or think it can last without the students getting bored. A teacher web is what I use as my planning tool for my theme. I think about what different things/elements I can focus on each week of the theme, books I can use, vocabulary, and activities I can put in other classroom centers to support our weekly focus. Here is my teacher web for my ice skating rink theme. You can purchase my Ice Skating Rink and Winter Centers in my TPT store.
In my class, we do a theme for 4 -8 weeks. It may sound like a long time but I goes by fast. We dive deep into a theme, learning everything we can about it. It is just a plan and each time I make changes to it as we go based on student need.
Setting up the center & building background knowledge: Start with an empty center, just furniture nothing on the shelf. Read and reread a non-fiction book(s) the first week about the theme to build students'' background knowledge. Create a chart or web of people and props needed for the center. Have students make as any props and signs as possible. The more they do, make, and lead, they more invested I their play they will be! My pretend center is closed anywhere between 3 -5 days to set up the new center theme. If you need that center open for space reasons, have the students go to the closed center to make props.
Think about how you want to organize the center and label everything you can! The more labels you have the easier it will be for students to keep the center clean! This picture is part of the Ice Skating Rink the LAST week of the theme. The first week of ice skating rink, there were: ice skates, ice, cash register, shoe locker, cones, ice tools, scarves, gloves, and money. Students played in the center and learned the roles with minimal props.
I know you are thinking students will be bored with a few props but they will not be! And remember they have to learn how to follow the "rules" of the roles, pretend scripts (what they say when they are pretending), and how to use the new props appropriately. Attendants can clean the ice, clean the skating (don't worry that spray bottle is empty),
write receipts (writing numbers is a great math experience), and give the ice skater their skates. The attendant has to measure the ice skate to see if it fits. Is it too big, too small, or just right? They also have to match the numbers when putting the skates away. What fun way to add math experiences into their play.
Customers have to buy the skates. I don't have prices so students have to make up a price for the skates each time. Both roles are counting the money, another fun math experience! Then the customers try on their skates and go skating! Believe me that is enough for the first week! The best way I have found to support their play is to pretend right there with them! Be the ice skater or the attend yourself! You can coach them and support their play at their level!
I had to show you the shoe locker they made. Students taped boxes together, painted them, and added a sign!
The second week we added our snack shop.
Students' made the drink machine, popcorn machine, popcorn, cookies, and pretzels. Don't you LOVE the invented spelling on all the signs! I try to add tweezers anywhere I can to develop fine motor. Students use the tweezers to put the ice (cotton balls) in the cups.
Students cut on the lines to make paper squares and crumbled them to make the popcorn.
Students wanted pretzels at the snack shop and I didn't have any. The students decided that they could make pretzels using pipe cleaners. Students are using higher level thinking when they use objects to represent other objects and imaginary props in their play. Are you loving all the fine motor you students are doing when making all the props?
Here are the ice skaters taking a break and having a snack! The made the cookies out of model magic when we had a bakery in the pretend center.
When the attendant takes the order they read the order form, ask the customer what they want, and write it down! MORE math and literacy embedding in their play!
The third week our focus was HOCKEY! We used pool noodles cut in half for hockey sticks, a small foam ball for a puck, and laundry baskets for goals! The boys absolutely LOVED this! It doesn't look hard but skating on paper skates and playing hockey at the same time is hard work. Do you see how I infused some gross motor work there? They really needed it too because were not going outside much due to the cold weather.
The forth week we added hot cocoa (an empty container) and marshmallows (cotton balls). Here is a look inside the refrigerator.
I hope this answered some of your questions about how I do pretend play in my classroom!
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Go grab Ice Skating Rink and check out all my other dramatic play themes in my TPT store (link here). Just print, prep, and teach! I did all the creating for you so you don't miss out on your weekends anymore!