Does play have a place in literacy instruction? Absolutely!
Jean Piaget said it best: “Play is the work of childhood.”
If you know me, you know that I have high expectations for my students. I believe that young children can do AMAZING things when it comes to reading and writing.
But I also believe that our literacy instruction has to take children’s development into account. And play is an important part of development!
One way that I incorporate play into literacy instruction is through a dramatic play literacy center. In this post, I’ll share ideas to help you set up a productive, fun dramatic play literacy center in your own classroom!
Photo Credit: jirasaki, Shutterstock
What is a dramatic play literacy center?
A dramatic play literacy center is built around play. It helps children understand how reading and writing are a part of everyday life. It also gives students an opportunity to experiment with reading and writing in the context of play.
Here’s an example:
In your kindergarten classroom, you have a play kitchen. You stock the fridge with pretend food and plastic dishes. You add empty cereal boxes and other food containers to mimic the things students might see in their own homes. You add a small bin with dress-up clothes. You place a cookbook, take-out menus, and grocery circular ads on the counter. You provide list paper and pencils so students can make shopping lists. You might add play money and a play phone.
When students visit the center, they might pretend to be Mommy, Daddy, or another family member. They “cook” using the play food and read words they recognize from the empty food containers. Students also read or pretend-read the cookbook, take-out menus, grocery circular ads, and empty cereal boxes. They use the list paper to make a shopping list, perhaps copying words from the cereal boxes, ads, menus, and cookbooks. They read their lists to other “family members.”
In a nutshell, the students are playing AND using literacy skills for authentic purposes. It’s a fun and educationally valuable center!
How do you ensure that students use the center purposefully and productively?
Sure, the scene I described above is ideal. You might also find your kids throwing plastic food at each other in the dramatic play literacy center. 🙂
Literacy play doesn’t always happen naturally. This is especially true if your students come from homes where they don’t typically see reading and writing being used in everyday life.
This is where modeling comes in — it’s absolutely essential! When I introduce the dramatic play literacy center (or introduce a new theme), I sit in the center during independent work time. I play with the kids and model how to use the literacy props. It’s so fun. 🙂 But it also shows them what to do.
I also think it’s important not to overwhelm the kids with “stuff.” If I have a ton of props for a center theme, I don’t put them all in the center. We start out small and add things as time goes on. I also take props away and re-introduce them so the kids don’t get tired of using the same materials day in and day out.
What can you put in the dramatic play literacy center?
I usually start the year out with the kitchen theme I described in my answer to the first question. Here are some other possible ideas for themes and props:
- Paper and pencil (including stationery and blank greeting cards)
- Stickers to serve as pretend stamps
- List of children’s names in the class
- Real mailbox or little mail slots for each student
- Picture books about the post office
- Examples of friendly letters
- Play food
- Shopping cart or basket
- List paper and pencil for a grocery list
- Little chalkboards or labels for students to make food signs and add prices
- Adding machine tape for creating receipts
- Picture books about the grocery store and/or food
- Stuffed animals
- Play stethoscope and otoscope
- Play medicine bottles
- Paper and pencil for writing prescriptions
- Picture books about veterinarians and/or pets
There are so many other possibilities for incorporating play into literacy centers — this is just a start! If you have other ideas to add, please share in a comment below!
If you’re looking for printable literacy props for your own dramatic play center, click on the image below to learn more about the props I’ve created!