Sunday, 6 March 2016

The importance of role play.

 Sometimes when I have a post 'brewing' in my mind, another blogger I might follow manages to write a post on the same topic or I come across an article written in a similar vein. And so it has happened with this post, I have been watching as the role play develops in my class this year and reflecting on how this aspect of the preschool day has far reaching consequences for later development. Then lo and behold, last week I was fortunate to get to hear a brief presentation from Dr Dorothy Singer a big play advocate and professor at Yale, all about her research on imaginative play. Then Takoma Park Cooperative Nursery posted their latest blog post all about dramatic play.( Sometimes in the busy preschool curriculum role play can be overlooked as a valuable stage of development but after listening to Dorothy Singer, I won't be making that mistake. She referred to the ages between 3 and 5 as "the high season of play" and I think anyone who spends time around children of this age will agree; play comes naturally to most children in this age group, they just can't help themselves and aren't yet self-conscious about acting out a fantasy scenario in front of others. I think it is very sad that our present curriculum in Northern Ireland doesn't allow for much deep,  sustained role play beyond the nursery years of 3 & 4. Once children are in primary they have an hour of play and because it is limited and so much has to be achieved in that hour, it can be quite frantic rather than settled and deep. I once heard it said that it takes 45 minutes for a child to become deeply involved in their play and so if play time is over a 60 minute period with lots of moving from activity to activity and perhaps snack time thrown into the mix, it can't really be deep level play, can it?
One thing I admire about Takoma Park, is the way they have archived all their play scenarios (play arcs is their term) from the start of the school and do they have a wealth of children's play scenarios to draw upon. I wish I had done that since starting in my job in 2011, it would be great to see the influences that had lead to the play scenarios over the years. 
This year, Disney's Frozen, is providing a big inspiration for a lot of the role play outside but not inside, perhaps there's a study to be done on this! One child is the one who freezes the others and then various other children will drift in and out of the play to help melt people or to be frozen themselves. Interestingly whilst sometimes the rescuer can be Kristoff, it is just as likely to be a storm trooper or Spider-Man as both Star Wars & super heroes have a big influence this year too. Other times the same child who is 'the ice queen' can be found being Daphne and searching for mysteries ala 'Scooby Doo'!
Mud kitchens & outdoor 'cooking' - another aspect of role play.
Inside the role play revolves around cats and dogs and at the moment pregnant ladies! Some children will get on a paramedic dress up suit to help deliver the various babies - usually stuffed toys that have been stashed up a dress or jumper. One child in particular who has been deep in the pregnant lady play scenario for weeks, can be heard going around the room saying "Sweetheart, I'm pregnant" to whichever child seems receptive to the situation. 
Dorothy Singer spoke of how children who engage in role play usually have higher verbal skills and that engaging in such play children learn how to defer gratification. The latter remark was made in relation to those who are primarily engaged in playing computer games etc. This remark about delayed gratification stuck with me, as I could think of a child I had in my class at one time, who played a lot of games on the X-box and iPad etc., it was all he could talk about and it took a long time for him to 'get' play in nursery. His biggest issue was turn taking and not being first, he found waiting very, very hard and even after 6 months could be heard crying out 'But I haven't had a go yet/been picked etc.' even when it was clear that lots of children were still waiting a turn. 
A good leader at role play is about to give and take, they usually have great ideas for the play scenario but can be flexible and allow for character changes throughout the play. The child, I talked about before had real problems during role play, as he wanted it to always go the route he had chosen, he couldn't be flexible about characters changing of leaving or joining in half way through. Could it be because many of the games he played had a very set way of being played out?
I personally, love watching role play scenarios unfold and develop and think it is a crucial part of the curriculum for every child but it needs time to be developed over time and not just a new scenario every few weeks to help tick a box on a planning document. 


  1. Thanks for the wonderful post. First school is always special for every child and Cradle2crayons is the best choice for playgroup nursery school in Nagpur. For more detail visit Cradle2crayons or contact 7304252216.

  2. Thanks for the shout out, Kierna, and thank you for calling my attention to Dorothy Singer. What a treat that must have been to hear her speak. Hope to learn more about her work!


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