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Dramatic play—Every day

Supporting common dramatic play themes
In addition to basic housekeeping themes, children often expand their play in predictable ways. These dramatic play themes emerge from personal experiences (flying on an airplane or buying new shoes), from the media (space travel), and from family activities (camping or going to the beach).
Choose from the themes below to help children develop new cognitive, social, emotional, and language skills.

Basic props: travel posters, suitcases, extra clothes to pack, plane chairs, seat belts, oxygen masks, emergency cards, photos of planes, tickets, trays for snack, hats for pilots, aprons for flight attendants, maps

Here’s what you need:
cardboard boxes shaped like suitcases. Vary the sizes but make sure the boxes will nest to maximize storage space.
craft knife
1-inch-wide nylon webbing
hook-and-loop fastener
wide strapping tape
colored permanent markers
adhesive-backed labels

1. Glue each box closed on all sides. Let dry.
2. Using the craft knife, cut 2 inches from the top around three sides to open the box.
3. Apply strapping tape along the back to make a hinge for the suitcase.
4. Make a handle by stapling a 6-inch length of nylon webbing to the front.
5. Make latches by stapling two lengths of hook-and-loop fastener on the front about 2 inches from the edges.
6. Use the markers to draw destination stickers on the labels. Decorate the suitcases.

Instrument panel
Here’s what you need:
tri-panel display board
aluminum foil
permanent markers
straight edge
craft knife
plastic bottle caps
colored plastic tape
construction paper
photograph of scenery

1. Cut the display board in half horizontally, making two, tri-panel boards.
2. Cover one panel with aluminum foil and glue in place. Save the second panel for another use.
3. Cut out a photograph of scenery and glue this “view” to the panel.
4. Glue bottle caps to the panel to represent dials.
5. Draw gauges on construction paper and glue to the panel.
6. Outline the view, dials, and gauges with colored plastic tape.

Oxygen masks
Here’s what you need:
plastic margarine tubs or other plastic containers with straight sides
orange, adhesive-backed plastic
permanent marker
clear vinyl tubing, 10-inch lengths for each mask
craft knife
elastic, 15-inch lengths for each mask
hole punch

1. Cover the margarine tubs with orange plastic.
2. Punch holes on opposite sides of the tub, near the edge.
3. Thread a 15-inch length of elastic through the holes and tie securely.
4. Cut 10-inch lengths of clear plastic tubing.
5. Draw an outline of the diameter of the tubing on the bottom of the tub.
6. Carefully cut an X on the bottom of the tub and push the tubing into the hole. The fit should be tight enough that it won’t need to be secured with tape or glue.
Note: If any children in the group haven’t flown, you’ll need to explain the function of the oxygen mask and how it drops from the overhead compartment.

Basic props: beach or golf umbrella, beach ball, towels, sunglasses, empty sunscreen bottles, sun hats, swim goggles, radios, beach chairs, swim suits, wading pool filled with sand, wading pool filled with shredded paper or Styrofoam® peanut “water,” beach cabana, sea shells
Make the umbrella safe for the classroom. Try to borrow a patio umbrella with its stand. Or use a large golf umbrella. Secure the shaft to a table leg using three or four plastic tie-wraps.

Here’s what you need:
large box from a washing machine or refrigerator
strapping tape
permanent marker
straight edge
craft knife
4 yards brightly colored fabric, bought or donated. Nylon rip-stop is sturdy and will last for years. Cotton remnants are available for less than $1 a yard.

1. Remove any staples from the box. Tape the box closed on the top and bottom.
2. Draw cutting lines on each side of the box. Make them about 4 inches from the top and the right and left side edges.
3. On each side of the box, cut the bottom flush to the base of the box. Cut on the drawn cutting lines along the left and right side edges and the top. Repeat for the other three sides. The corners, flat top, and base will make the box sturdy enough for play.
4. Fold the fabric along the width, making four yard-long panels.
5. Cut 1-inch-wide strips through all four layers. Start at the bottom selvage and cut to about 3 inches from the top selvage.
6. Tape the fabric curtain to the top of the box. Adjust to make sure all four openings have fabric strip doors.
Note: The cabana will allow children to feel that they are using private space; you will still find it easy to supervise.

Basic props: gift boxes, wrapping paper, ribbon, party hats, cake-making equipment, candles, play food, calendar, birthday crown, stuffed animals and dolls, writing materials for making birthday cards, ice cream scoops and painted Styrofoam® ball “ice cream,” Happy Birthday sign

Basic props: tent, canteens, rope, flashlights, logs for fire, bandanas, hats, lanterns, fishing boat and poles, backpacks, trail mix, sleeping bags, binoculars, nature guides, recordings of nature sounds

If you don’t have access to a real tent, improvise!
Here’ what you need:
bed sheet
rope, 10 feet long
plastic tent stakes

1. Tie a 10-foot length of rope between two trees about five feet from the ground.
2. Toss the sheet over the rope.
3. Cut twine into 2-foot lengths
4. Twist the twine around each corner of the sheet.
5. Pound the tent stakes into the ground at four points.
6. Tie the ends of the twine to the stakes creating an A-frame tent.

Here’s what you need:
cardboard tubes
cotton twine
hole punch
black liquid tempera
silver duct tape

1. Cut two 6-inch lengths of cardboard tube.
2. Paint the tubes black.
3. Place the pieces side-by-side and tape together. The tape both secures the tubes and adds decoration.
4. Punch holes for a neck strap.
5. Tie an 18-inch length of twine through the holes.

Fishing boat
Here’s what you need:
cardboard appliance box
craft knife
permanent marker
heavy tape
liquid tempera
long cardboard tubes

1. Cut the appliance box in half along the longer side. This will allow you to make two boats from one box. Draw a cutting line so that the front of the boat is slightly higher than the back. Use the craft knife to cut carefully. Do this away from children.
2. Remove any staples, and tape over any rough cardboard edges.
3. Invite children to paint the boat with tempera. Allow to dry thoroughly.
4. With scissors cut two 4-inch slits into one end of the cardboard tubes.
5. Cut an oar shape from the cardboard, one for each paddle.
6. Slide the cardboard into the oar handle. Glue the cardboard in place.
7. Use the boats indoors or outdoors. Encourage the children to paddle to their favorite fishing hole.

Fire station
Basic props: fire hats, hard hats, rain boots, raincoats, hoses, cardboard houses, wireless radios, fire truck, ladder

Wireless radios
Here’s what you need:
small rectangular boxes
aluminum foil
permanent marker
drinking straws
black electrical tape
black Styrofoam® tray

1. Glue the box closed.
2. Cover the box with aluminum foil. Glue in place.
3. Cut two circles from the black tray. Glue in place on the lower half of the box.
4. Draw a “speaker” screen on the upper half of the box.
5. Cover the drinking straw with foil.
6. Use black tape to affix this “antenna” to one long side of the box.

Fire hats
Here’s what you need:
permanent marker
clear, adhesive-backed plastic or laminator
heavy tape or stapler

1. Draw an outline of the hat on the poster board. You should be able to get three hats from one sheet.
2. Draw large numerals on the front of the hat.
3. Laminate the posterboard. Laminating before cutting reduces the process to one step instead of two.
4. Cut out the hat and the semi-circle as shown in the photographs below.
Option: Cut a 1-inch-wide and 8-inch-long strip from the posterboard waste. Attach the strip across the crown of the hat to hold it on the child’s head.

Paper bag raincoats
Here’s what you need:
brown grocery bags
permanent marker
yellow and black plastic tape

1. Cut away the two narrow sides of the bag.
2. Open the bag flat and cut a hole from the reinforced bag bottom. Make the hole large enough for a child’s head.
3. Turn the bag inside out.
4. Cut and place tape strips to indicate a placket, buttons, and fire department insignia on the front.
5. Use the permanent marker to draw a large ID numeral on the back of the jacket.
Note: Firefighters call their coat, boots, pants, and hat “turnout gear.”

Basic props: menus, plates, silverware, kitchen supplies, apron, chef’s hat, play food, cash register, order pad, placemat, table and chairs

Cash register
Here’s what you need:
flat gift box
colored adhesive-backed shelf paper
unused sponge
permanent marker
colored construction paper
poker chips

1. Cover the bottom and the lid of the box with shelf paper.
2. Mark and cut the sponge into 12 equal-size squares.
3. Write the numerals 1 through 10 plus 00 and “No Sale” on the squares.
4. Glue the sponge pieces onto the box to look like a cash register keypad.
5. Make play money from cut construction paper and poker chips.
6. Store the money in the cash register.

Chef’s hat
Here’s what you need:
large sheets of white paper
heavy tape

1. Cut 3-inch-by-20-inch strips of posterboard.
2. Staple each strip of posterboard into a circle to fit children’s heads, making a hat band.
3. Cut the white paper into a 24-inch diameter circle.
4. Pleat and fold the circumference of the circle to fit around the hat band.
5. Tape the paper into place on the inside of the hat band.

Science lab
Basic props: dust filter masks, latex gloves, white lab coats, hair nets, safety goggles, small metal trays, cotton swabs, eyedroppers, magnifying glass, tweezers, scale, thermometer, clear vinyl tubing, lab journal and pencil, and materials to examine like rocks, seeds, and plants.

Lab coats
Here’s what you need:
White, long-sleeved dress shirts. Ask for donations, or check the used clothing stores where they will be priced at less than $2.
white cloth tape
sewing machine (optional)
hook-and-loop fasteners

1. Cut the hem of the shirt straight across.
2. Remove the button placket and collar.
3. Cut a 12-inch length of tape. Attach it to the back of the shirt, side seam to side seam, at the child’s waist, gathering fabric as you tape. Or sew in place by machine.
4. Cut the sleeves to about 12 inches long.
5. Cut two tape cuffs. Gather and tape the sleeve ends, or sew by machine.
6. Line the front placket and neckline with tape. Or turn under raw edges and hem by machine.
7. Glue hook-and-loop fasteners to the front of the lab coat.

Space travel
Basic props: space helmets, Mylar® space suits (or smocks), spaceship, lunar landing site, walkie-talkies (see Fire Station wireless radios), instrument panel (see Airplane theme on page 12), rocks, NASA posters, space food packets, air tanks.

Here’s what you need:
large rectangular box
craft knife
black posterboard
silver duct tape
liquid tempera

1. Tape the top and bottom of the box closed with silver duct tape—it’s both structural and decorative.
2. Cut out the top of the box to allow supervision. Children can step into a long, low box. If the box is too tall for easy entry, cut out an entrance door on one side.
3. Cut the posterboard in half. Fold into two cones and tape to hold the shape.
4. Tape the cones to the back of the box. These are the booster rockets.
5. Make an instrument panel inside the front of the spaceship.
6. Invite children to help paint the spaceship, adding stars and insignia.

Landing site
Here’s what you need:
white sheet
chunks of soft and hard foam
needle and thread or sewing machine
silver duct tape
black and green liquid tempera

1. Fold the sheet in half across the width.
2. Sew the open sides together leaving a 2-foot opening on one side.
3. Dribble splotches of black and green paint on the sheet.
4. When the paint is dry, add decorative strips of silver duct tape.
5. Place blocks of foam between the sheet layers. Use enough to create low craters and ridges. These will move around as children climb on the “lunar surface.”
6. Sew the opening shut.
7. Open the landing site on the floor near the rocket ship. Invite children to pretend weightlessness as they explore the rocky surface.

Space food packets
Here’s what you need:
silver duct tape
permanent markers

1. Cut rectangles of posterboard.
2. Place tape along each of the posterboard edges.
3. Label each rectangle “package” with a food name—beef stew, macaroni and cheese, scrambled eggs, green beans, and ice cream, for example.

Air tanks
Here’s what you need:
large plastic soda bottles
craft knife
silver duct tape
aluminum foil
file-folder rubber bands, 7 to 10 inches long
clear vinyl tubing, 24-inch length for one set of tanks

1. Cut the tops off two soda bottles.
2. Cover the bottles with aluminum foil and glue in place.
3. Tape the two bottles together in two places—one near the top and one near the bottom.
4. Make shoulder straps from file-folder rubber bands. Place the bands parallel to each other along the lengths of each bottle.
5. Run a third length of tape near the center of the bottles through the bands to hold the straps in place.
6. Cut a 24-inch length of tubing.
7. Tape one end of the tubing to the bottom of one of the bottles.

Create playful shopping experiences with a variety of stores—grocery, flower shop, pet store, shoe store, and bakery. Gather basic props like cash register, pretend money, wallets, price stickers, signs, aprons, and display shelves to use for all stores. Use the following ideas for creating specialty shops.
Shoe store: Variety of old shoes like ballet slippers, western boots, baby shoes, heels, slippers, work boots, and sport shoes; shoe boxes; shoe polish, brushes, and buffing rags; advertising displays; size charts.
Pet store: Pet cages and tanks (borrowed), stuffed animals, leashes, bowls, brushes, empty food containers, aquarium nets, plastic fish, zip-top plastic bags.
Gardening store: plastic flower pots, gardening gloves, watering cans, spray bottles, plastic flowers on stems, empty seed packets.
Bakery: bread and muffin pans, plastic bowls, wooden spoons, chefs’ hats, cookie cutters, rolling pin, measuring spoons and cups, recipe books, pot holders, pie tins.
Grocery: Bins, empty food boxes, brown paper bags, advertising signs, shopping baskets.

Basic props: musical instruments; curtain; puppets; dolls; sparkly, evening-wear costumes like fancy purses, sequined dresses, boas, long gloves, top hats, and silky scarves; programs; ticket booth and tickets; MC’s microphone; character costumes

Here’s what you need:
cardboard tube
Styrofoam® ball
craft knife
black liquid tempera

1. Cut an 8-inch length of tube.
2. Glue a Styrofoam® ball to one end.
3. Paint the instrument black.

Ticket booth
Make removable signs for this prop. The same box will serve as a bank ATM machine, a bank teller’s booth, and a post office.
Here’s what you need:
cardboard appliance box
craft knife
permanent marker
strapping tape
liquid tempera
permanent marker

1. Remove all heavy staples from the box.
2. Tape the bottom and top closed.
3. Cut a window out of the front of the box. Make the cut so that the bottom of the opening is about chest high on the children. A 4-inch frame around the opening will help keep the box stable.
4. Cut a swinging door in the back of the box. Make hinges with lengths of wide strapping tape.
5. Invite children to help paint the box. Try to keep the colors neutral if you’ll use this with more than one theme.
6. Make a sign that says TICKETS. Tape the sign in place over the window.
7. Make smaller signs that indicate ticket prices. Hang these on the inside of the door, behind the ticket taker.

Character costumes
Make character costumes from brown paper bags (see Firefighter theme on page 15) or make these simple headbands that identify different characters.
Here’s what you need:
wide strapping tape
drawings or pictures of characters
clear, adhesive-backed plastic or laminator
hook-and-loop fasteners

1. Cut 4-inch-wide strips of posterboard. Wrap around children’s heads to fit. Tape securely. Make one for each child.
2. Glue a 2-inch length of the hook side of hook-and-loop fastener to the front of the head band.
3. Cut out, copy, or draw pictures of characters. Make these no larger than 6 inches square.
4. Laminate the pictures or cover with clear adhesive-backed plastic.
5. Glue a 2-inch length of the loop side of hook-and-loop fastener to the back of the character piece. The hook-and-loop tape system allows children to trade characters.

Keeping parents informed
Regularly share your dramatic play plans with parents. Take the opportunity to ask for help with needed props or construction projects. Invite parents to share ideas: Always ask “What is your child talking about at home?” Use this information to extend dramatic play with new props and equipment.
Often parents have the expertise to enrich the center. What better than to have a real veterinarian visit the center when the theme is a pet shop?

Barbour, Ann and Blanche Desjean-Perrotta. 2002. . Beltsville, Md.: Gryphon House.
Isbell, Rebecca and Christy Isbell. 2003. . Beltsville, Md.: Gryphon House.
Koralek, Derry (Ed). 2004. . Washington, D.C.: National Association for the Education of Young Children.
Mayesky, M., D. Neuman, and R.J. Wlodkowsik. 1985. . New York: Delmar Thompson.
Mitchell, Linda C. 2004. Making the most of creativity in activities for young children with disabilities. . 59 (4): 46-49.
Myhre, Susan M. 1993. Enhancing your dramatic-play area through the use of prop boxes. Young Children 48 (5): 6-11.
Rogers, Cosby S. and Janet K. Sawyers. 1988. . Washington, D.C.: National Association for the Education of Young Children.