How to Set Up a Dramatic Play Area
Kid's learn through play. We've all heard this a hundred bazillion times, but that's because it's true. As moms, we love it when our kids hit a new milestone or learn a new skill, but sometimes in our rush for them to do the next thing, we forget that as littles, their main task is simple. To play.
What I love about dramatic play centers is that they are a way to curate a play area for our kids that they love while also teaching. They begin to recognize letters and words and numbers, sure. But they also learn about different roles in our world (community helpers!), how to hold a marker, how to immerse themselves in a task. All of these are equally important skills for our kids to learn, and what better way than with their imaginations?
So how do you set up a dramatic play center? Don't panic. It's easier than you think. It doesn't have to be elaborate. You don't have to go out and buy a million new toys (because we all know, ours kids have more. than. enough. toys!). In fact, besides purchasing the printables to go along with your center, you probably don't need to buy much at all. You'd be surprised what you can find around your home to fit the themes your kids love.
I know it can be a little intimating, so I've gone ahead and shown you step by step what I do in my own home to make dramatic play exciting for my kiddos. Hours of fun is just around the corner with these quick and easy steps!
First, you need to pick your theme. There are so many different ideas to choose from. In my shop, I currently have over ten different themes to choose from, and the list is every growing. Set up a play hospital, a vet office, a pretend classroom, a bakery or even a flower shop! The key is to choose a theme that you child is going to be interested in spending hours exploring.
Once you've picked your theme and purchased any coordinating printables, the next step is to print and laminate everything. You don't need to laminate, but I like to laminate anything my kiddos will be using over and over again so I don't have to continuously print new pages out. And if you rotate your dramatic play centers out throughout the year, everything will be ready to go when it pull it back out.
Pro tip: Save laminator sheets by putting some signs or name tags back to back.
Once all of your printables are laminated, trim everything down nice and neat--but not too close as to undo the laminator sheet. I've learned that one the hard way more than once!
My kids have a designated playroom on our first floor so it is easy for me to set up a dramatic play center in the corner of the room. If you don't have that kind of space, it's okay! You can even put everything in a small tote for your kids to pull out when they want to play with that particular play center. We all know kids hate to put things back where they belong anyway, so although I like to set everything up and label it, it's not a necessary step. But if you have the space, a nine cube organizer works great for this.
As you can see here, I label each shelf and put the coordinating object or toy in it's designated spot. The beauty of this flower shop dramatic play set is that I didn't purchase anything extra. Everything shown was found around the house. I cleaned up some of my outside tools, brought in the girl's watering can, and added other toys from their playroom collection. If you want to add new toys in though, the Dollar Store and Bullseye's Playround Spot in Target are both great places to find inexpensive items to add to dramatic play.
When I create my printables for dramatic play, it's with the idea in mind that they are added items to make the play more well rounded. Kids can play pretend hospital without name tags and pretend medical charts, but isn't it more fun when those things are included? They can create a restaurant without menus and sell flowers without price tags....but with these items added, their experience is richer and more immersive. Choosing books from the local library to go along with the theme adds another layer.
The wonderful thing about dramatic play is that the sky is the limit when it comes to what to include. Toys, stuffed animals, books, dress up, sensory bins...the list goes on. Whatever will engage your kiddos and spark their creativity in this space is exactly the right thing.
I hope I've helped de-mystify dramatic play centers a bit for you, and given you permission to plan them your way. It may look more polished or pinterest worthy if you set up a pretty corner in the playroom, but a tote or basket to store your items works just as well. Make playtime extra fun for your kiddos this summer without the stress!