Role Play

4.1 Daily Living Role Play 

Daily living role play (also sometimes referred to as “dramatic play”) is a valuable part of the early year’s curriculum. Children under 36 months engage in role-play by imitating the use of everyday items such as phones and stirring pots. Daily living role play typically progresses from the time a child is 36 months old when they engage almost exclusively in solitary play and in watching others play; to the equal time engaged in solitary, parallel, and group play at 48 months; and to primarily group play with some solitary and parallel play at 60 months. During the early years, role play should be about the process of creating and exploring, rather than an end product, such as a rehearsed play or other formal performance.

a child playing with a kitchen set
Figure 1: Daily Living Role Play (image by Kampus Production)


Educators can support daily living role play for all age groups with the following:

  • Observe dramatic play and role-playing.
  • Step in or model when needed.
  • Provide adaptations to support the participation of children with disabilities or other special needs. This may include pre-teaching, using pictures, sign language, and other multisensory enrichment, modified equipment/props, etc.
  • Use a drama-based vocabulary. For example, blocking, actors, stage, scenery, voice, props, etc.
  • Encourage children to use drama-based vocabulary.
  • Encourage and model the expression of interests and preferences.
  • Encourage and allow initiative.
  • Model and note appropriate ways of using drama materials.
  • Move in and out role as appropriate (decide when to participate and when to facilitate).
  • Use costumes, props, and scenery to inspire dramatic play and drama.
  • Facilitate children’s engagement in drama by first discussing expectations.
  • Scaffold and encourage children during and after participating in drama to build their understanding and use of plot. 

Pause to Reflect

How important do you think it is for children to have dolls that are culturally appropriate (clothing, range of skin colour, eye colour, and eye shape) for their dramatic play?


What other toys and materials can offer a representation of different ethnicities, expanding their role play?

4.2 Suggested Materials for Daily Living Role Play 

Table 4.1 Suggested Material for Daily Living Role Play 

Type of Materials 

Examples of Materials 

Found or Recycled Materials  
Scarves, sashes, and fabric remnants varying in size, color, design, and texture for a costume area; include strips of furry fabric to be used as animal tails. Wooden spoons, paint sticks, paper towel and wrapping  

paper tubes, yarn, and boxes can work as nonrepresentational props where children create meaning.

Large and small blocks; stuffed animals; dolls; wooden or plastic fruits and vegetables  
Puppets; textual props such as menus and signs; large pieces of blue, green, yellow, brown, and floral fabric to depict rivers, grass, dirt (for “planting” vegetables), and flower gardens; headbands with several types of animal ears sewn on  
Natural Environment  
Wood, tree cookies, and other materials for building; pinecones, feathers, smooth stones, and pebbles  
Adaptive Materials  


Consider props that are easy to use and handle (e.g., oversized objects and items without many complicated pieces). Adapt clothing and fabric by removing buttons, enlarging openings, and so on for ease of wearing.  
child in a chef uniform
Figure 2: Learning about different jobs through role play (photo by Amina Filkins)

4.3 The Value of Role Play 

Role play is when children have a role to play and, during a small scenario, they speak and act in that role, adopting the behaviors and motives of the character they are playing. No script is provided, but it is important that children are given enough information by the educator to be able to assume the role. The children enacting the roles should also be encouraged to express their thoughts and feelings spontaneously.

Role play has several advantages because it:

  • explores real-life situations to develop an understanding of other people’s feelings
  • promotes the development of decision-making skills
  • actively engages children in learning and enables all children to contribute
  • promotes a higher level of thinking.

Role play can help younger children develop the confidence to speak in different social situations, for example, pretending to shop in a store, purchase a ticket, or order at a restaurant. You can set up simple scenes with a few props and signs, such as ‘Café’, ‘Grocery Store’ or ‘Garage’. Ask children, ‘Who works here?’, ‘What do they say?’ and ‘What do we ask them?’ and encourage children to interact in the role of the mechanic, observing their language use.

Role play can develop older children’s life skills. For example, before and after school programs, you may be exploring how to resolve conflict. You can describe a similar but detached scenario that exposes the same issues. Assign children roles or ask them to choose one for themselves. You may give them planning time or just ask them to role-play immediately. The role play can be shared with the class, or children could work in small groups so that no group is being watched. Note that the purpose of this activity is the experience of role-playing and what it exposes; you are not looking for polished performances or Bollywood actor awards.

It is also possible to use role-play in science and math. Children can model the behaviors of atoms, taking on characteristics of particles in their interactions with each other or changing their behaviors to show the impact of heat or light. In math, children can role-play angles and shapes to discover their qualities and combinations.

Using drama in the classroom is a good strategy to motivate most children. Drama develops skills and confidence and can also be used to assess what children understand about a topic. A drama about children’s understanding of how the brain works could use pretend telephones to show how messages go from the brain to the ears, eyes, nose, hands, and mouth, and back again. Or a short, fun drama on the consequences of forgetting how to subtract numbers could fix the correct methods in young children’s minds.

For school-age children, drama often builds towards a performance for the rest of the class, the school, or for the parents and the local community. This goal will give children something to work towards and motivate them. The whole class should be involved in the creative process of producing a drama. It is important that differences in confidence levels are considered. Not everyone must be an actor; children can contribute in other ways (organizing, costumes, props, stagehands) that may relate more closely to their talents and personality.

It is important to consider why you are using drama to help children learn. Is it to develop language (e.g., asking and answering questions), subject knowledge (e.g., the environmental impact of mining), or to build specific skills (e.g., teamwork)? Be careful not to let the learning purpose of drama be lost in the goal of the performance.

Pause to Reflect

What is your comfort level in role play? Will your confidence in acting out be a barrier to providing a rich environment with props and opportunities for children?


Before and after-school programs often do not have a ‘permanent’ set-up classroom. How can you include drama experiences outside and in open spaces?

Important Things to Remember

  • During the early years, role play should be about the process of creating and exploring, rather than an end product, such as a rehearsed play or other formal performance.
  • Role play provides opportunities for children to explore real-life situations and to develop the ability to understand other people’s feelings.
  • Role play promotes the development of decision-making skills.
  • Role play actively engages children in learning and enables all children to contribute in ways that value their talents and personalities.
  • Role play promotes a higher level of thinking.


Icon for the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License

Children's Learning Through Play Copyright © 2023 by Loyalist College is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

Share This Book