Developmental Purpose of Dramatic Play Centers in Preschool

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Development in Preschool

When you enter most preschools, chances are you’ll enter a room that feels a bit chaotic; full of noise and play. If you look closely, the children are involved in different types of pretend play. One group of students is building fire-stations from large wood blocks. Another small group of students is in the kitchen play-area discussing what will be for dinner. One child is the family pet and is barking for some food. If a parent were to ask would you be able to definitively answer the question, “What is the developmental purpose behind dramatic play centers?”

Dramatic play is an important early childhood experience that will help to develop successful learners in later years. Dr. Diane Horm from the Early Childhood Education Center at the University of Oklahoma-Tulsa, states that children who went to preschool where there were large segments of time devoted to rich pretend play tended to do well later academically. According to Dr. Horm, pretend play is also correlated with impulse control which is more predictive of school success than I.Q.

Building that Relationship

Building an understanding of relationships around us happens during dramatic play. Role playing allows children to explore different relationships with people around them. Pretend play also includes exploring relationships to objects around us and discovering how the objects work within our environment. Children learn to pattern their play by emulating the adults and children around them. It is during these moments of play that children can create artificial conflict and explore ways to solve problems. The dramatic play center gives the student a safe space to explore these ideas and to practice them on the children or objects around them.

Another developmental purpose behind dramatic play centers is to support a child’s physical development. Negotiating and sharing space with others, manipulating blocks, pouring tea, dressing up are all ways to enhance a child’s physical development though play. Dr. Stuart Brown, founder of the National Institute for Play, points out that even rough and tumble play is an important learning medium for all of us because it helps to develop emotional regulation.

It’s important to remember that our pre-school and kindergarten philosophies are founded on over a century of study and research, reaching as far back as the 19th century to the teachings of Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi. Pestalozzi was one of the first educators to recognize the special needs of young learners. Our concept of kindergarten and subsequently many of our preschool programs are based on the ideas of Friedrich Froebel, who was a student of Pestalozzi. Jean Piaget’s findings on early cognitive development during the 20th century strengthened our resolve to base our early childhood education on developmentally appropriate educational tools and philosophies.


It is difficult to deny the important developmental purpose behind dramatic play centers. There is also a magical element of child-like play in that their seems to be no bounds to their creativity and mind for invention. As Bill Gates has said, “If you’ve ever watched a child with a cardboard carton and a box of crayons create a spaceship with cool control panels, or listened to their improvised rules, such as ‘Red cars can jump all others’, then you know that this impulse to make a toy do more is at the heart of innovative childhood play. It is also the essence of creativity.”