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The importance of role play

Role-play can take many different forms and serve as many purposes. As well as feeding the imagination and encouraging empathy, it is a powerful way of developing social skills. As well as the more formal role play situations in the classroom it is good to make room for role play where the children themselves have set the context and it is up to the adults to gently observe and support the learning.

Teachers are being encouraged offer more role play and creative play opportunities beyond early years. Time for literacy and numeracy, the fear of “chaos” and handing the learning over to the children can all make this difficult for teachers.

But imaginative play is more than children having fun. It has a crucial part to play in their intellectual and social development. The ability to make one thing stand for another, to picture things that are not there, are critical features in the growth of both thought and language.

Empathy is also developed through imaginative play. This is what is happening when children play mums and dads or schools, and it is play of this kind that help children overcome feelings of fear and loneliness.

Creativity has its foundations in imaginative play. It is here that the earliest stories are both invented and enacted.

Considerations for the early years practitioner during role play:

  •  Hold back and observe the learning, styles of learning and creative development before intervening.

In this way you can be sure that your intervention is not crushing the story they are telling or enacting. Your role can be to extend or challenge in a focused way if you have been watching an encounter.

  • Ask focused, open ended, not closed questions. Role play does not have a right answer.
  • Take on a role/join in children’s role play and dressing up. This gives value to their play and reinforces the nature of role play as transformative and accessible, you have become someone else too!

Provide imaginative and creative stimuli that leave room for creative gaps for the children’s responses.

An old suitcase appearing in the classroom with something glittery partly revealed is more stimulating than a shiny new toy! It poses questions as can you. What’s inside, who does it belong, to where did it come from, what shall we do?

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