The benefit of early years role play

As I said in a recent blog post we’ve been busy adding many new role play / dramatic play resources to our site. I thought I’d follow this up by talking about the inherent value of socio dramatic play within early years settings.


There is perhaps some debate about the balance that needs to be struck between adult led and child initiated activities (as discussed in a previous post about free-flow play) but there is a broad consensus about the value of play and it’s link to a child’s overall wellbeing. Joan Almon (Coordinator of the US Alliance of Childhood) sums this up rather well:
“creative play is a central activity in the lives of healthy children. Play helps children weave together all the elements of life as they experience it. It allows them to digest life and make it their own. It is an outlet for the fullness of their creativity”.


Play helps children to master social and emotional abilities which in turn provides a foundation for them to live happy, well adjusted lives. Socio dramatic play is an important element of creative play as it deepens a child’s understanding of the world and helps them to develop key life skills.


According to the psychologist Sara Smilansky socio-dramatic play consists of six principle features:
1)    The child undertakes a make-believe role
2)    The child uses make-believe to transform objects into things necessary for the play
3)    Verbal descriptions or exclamations are used at times in place of actions or situations
4)    The play scenarios last at least ten minutes
5)    At least two players interact within the play scene,
6)    there is some verbal communication involved with the play.


During the 1970s and 80s Sara Smilansky assessed and observed children aged three to six in early years settings across Israel and the US and reached the conclusion that a child’s ability to engage in socio-dramatic play is directly linked to a number of academic and social skills.


In particular she found that those children who often become engrossed in make-believe play demonstrated:
better verbalization, a richer vocabulary, higher language comprehension, superior language level, better problem-solving strategies, more curiosity, more empathy and a better ability to take on the perspective of another, better peer cooperation, reduced aggression, more of a propensity to engage in group activity and to play with peers, better control of impulsive actions, better prediction of others’ preferences and desires, better emotional and social adjustment, more innovation, more imaginativeness, longer attention span, greater attention ability, a propensity to perform more conservation tasks and a higher intellectual competence.


In short, this research indicates that the absence of socio-dramatic play in a child’s early childhood is likely to result in a lack of creativity and imagination and will compromise his / her social, emotional and intellectual development. Whilst it is true that genetics play an important part in how children develop (we are all born with a certain emotional style and temperament), the significance of early emotional interactions and environmental factors in determining future progress in life should not be underestimated. It is important that early years practitioners keep this in mind and ensure that their learning environments encourage and stimulate spontaneous socio dramatic play.

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