Be who you want to be

Annette Rawstrone
Monday, September 2, 2019

When your child climbs into a box and zooms off to the moon, or stirs some pine cones in a pot to make a stew, they are engaging in role-play. Find out how you can support them to take this to the max.

Role-play helps to develop children's creativity and language skills
Role-play helps to develop children's creativity and language skills

Role-play, which can also be referred to as imaginative play, is when a child takes on a different persona and acts out being that character – whether it's a fictitious monster, a fire fighter, shopkeeper or mummy. It's great fun being someone else for a while.

Engaging in role-play in the early years is regarded as an important activity so nurseries will have home corners, dressing up outfits and a range of items that can be used to encourage and support your child's play – from specific cash registers or pots and pans to open-ended ‘loose parts’ such as buttons and boxes.

Why is it important?

Role-play is a fun activity but it is also a powerful way for children to learn and is fundamental to their development. Through role-play children have the opportunity to act out events that they have seen or experienced which can help them to make sense of their world, such as preparing dinner in the home corner, putting on a uniform and going to work or playing mums and dads. It also aids their intellectual development through encouraging them to think about, and explore, imaginary places and scenarios. How else can they fly on a dragon, meet a queen or adventure deep under the sea?

Through role-play your child is:

  • Developing imagination and creativity – By becoming absorbed in an imaginary world they are thinking creatively and developing cognitive skills such as inventing, problem solving and planning. It is enabling your child to think from a different perspective.
  • Building self-esteem – Think of the sense of freedom your child gains from the ability to be anything they want, whether that's a pilot or a dinosaur. It can help to develop their confidence as they choose what happens next, rather than being directed by an adult.
  • Learning about real life – In a safe environment by acting out food shopping, going to the dentist or moving house. It enables them to learn about real scenarios to help make sense of their world or understand a new situation.
  • Supporting social and emotional development – Role-play can allow your child to experiment with different social and emotional roles. It can help them to think through how it feels to be someone else. This can support the development of empathy as they experiment with different feelings and emotions. Engaging in role-play with other children takes lots of skill. By negotiating the scenario and what will happen they need to learn how to co-operate and collaborate as they develop their role as parents looking after a baby or explorers setting out on a polar adventure – what are the ‘rules’ such as who will be dad, is there an older sibling or will they fly or sail?
  • Building language and communication – As your child explores new vocabulary to fit with the context of their play. To progress the play they will need to employ the conversational skills of listening and turn taking.
  • Enhancing physical development – As they jump on trampolines to launch into outer space, pass heavy buckets of water to put out a fire or vigorously flap their butterfly wings. Your child's fine motor skills can also be developed as they fasten up princess dresses, hand fiddly change to a customer or write a sign warning of danger.

How can I support my child?

  • Role-play doesn't have to be confined to your child's early years setting. Give them the time and space to role-play at home.
  • Think what resources you can provide to extend their play. This doesn't have to be expensive – consider a box for a car, pieces of fabric for superhero capes, buttons for money, a suitcase or your old shoes.
  • Join in with your child's play and introduce new words and phrases. If you notice that they are returning to a particular theme in their role-play then try to support it in other ways, such as taking them to a real railway station or providing books on trains.

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