A Recipe for Perfect Imaginative Play

Perfect Imaginative Play

Take some learners… add a dash of play, a splash more of play and then add a big dollop of, guess what?… play. What have you got? Happy, well-adjusted children!

What is Socio-dramatic Play?

Early Years practitioners understand the importance of play and are used to developing a balance between adult-led and child-initiated activities. Play allows children to learn about life and practise life skills in a safe environment; they can learn about life and all its intricacies through creative, imaginative role play.

It allows children to develop their social and emotional capabilities whilst learning about themselves, others and the connections between their actions and the consequences.

The provision of open-ended play scenarios enables children to effectively shape their own play, facilitating their play to meander in whatever direction they wish. Providing opportunities for children to engage in socio-dramatic play improves children’s happiness and wellbeing as well as their ability to understand and control their own emotions.

Socio-dramatic play deepens a child’s understanding of the world around them and supports them in developing important life skills.  The main features according to psychologist Sara Smilansky are:

  1. The child undertakes a make-believe role.
  2. The child uses make-believe to transform objects into things necessary for the play.
  3. Verbal descriptions or exclamations are used at times in place of actions or situations.
  4. The play scenarios last at least 10 minutes.
  5. At least 2 players interact within the play scene.
  6. There is some verbal communication involved in the play.

Source: https://www.earlylearninghq.org.uk/earlylearninghq-blog/the-benefit-of-early-years-socio-dramatic-play/

4 Ways Role Play Supports Learning

Social and Emotional Development

Pretend play allows children to experiment with real-life scenarios in a play situation. It builds their self-esteem as they can successfully become anything or anyone they like in their own imaginative world.

They will learn about taking turns by working collaboratively and will discover the consequences of not listening to each other. Children will also develop empathy for others by observing another child’s feelings and reactions.

They will learn and formulate ideas and draw conclusions from the role-play scenarios developing around them, teaching them that the world doesn’t solely revolve around them, developing an understanding of other people.

Language Development

Role play encourages communication between children. Learner’s language will flourish when they have the freedom to experiment with spoken language in a pressure-free environment. There are no rules, so they are even free to make up their own words and can enjoy exploring pattern and rhyme.

Creating funny language brings laughter to them all. They will listen to others and begin to realise that they need to make sense and speak purposefully to enable a friend to engage effectively in their game.

Children develop their language skills and understanding of expression by mimicking others. They will learn and be able to practise forming correct sentence structures, but also discover how words can have different meanings depending on the tone of voice and each individual scenario. Pretend play gets children talking in an uninhibited way.

Cognitive Development


Pretend play develops children’s thinking skills as they will need to solve problems, devise personal plans of action and extend their own ideas in order to lead play in any direction they’d like. For example, they may need to work out how many cups and plates they’ll need for a tea party; decide upon the tools required to fix a trike in the Garage or calculate the change required for a purchase in a Playtime Shop or Post Office.

Children will need to think in order to react to the imaginary world around them and this gives them the opportunity to practise playing out scenarios they may come across in their later lives.

Creative and Imaginative Development

Creating opportunities for socio-dramatic play enables learners to embark on mini-adventures in a fantasy world. Providing little corners, sheds or themed spaces that children can freely access and by supplying props like dressing up, intriguing artefacts, a variety of materials, small world toys and writing materials, facilitates learners to easily enter into their own, unique, imaginary world.

A Recipe for Perfect Imaginative Play

Create a Structure

Create a Structure

Provide portable, different sized cardboard boxes, crates and large-scale foam or wooden bricks so children can adapt the setting to form the backdrop for their imaginative play. Large blankets, sheets and rugs are also great for setting a scene.

An Outdoor Classroom, Jumbo Roofed Cabin or simply just utilising the space under a Play Tower, can create a perfect space for social play. A Jungle Play Den provides a cosy, exciting play area with space for socio-dramatic play both above and below. Playtime Shops and Outdoor Teepees can also be used in limitless ways as a base for any kind of imaginary role play.

Create a Character

Create a Character

Provide old hats, clothes, shoes, dressing up, bags, aprons, scarves and gloves etc. enabling children to become a character by making a change to their appearance. Fabric can also be a very versatile prop: one minute a fantastical hero’s cape, the next a raging river.

Clever storage like a Seating Cube, Outdoor Sorting Trays, Playground Storage Chest or a versatile Buggy Store will enable you to store props systematically so they are easily accessible to learners.

Create an Imaginary World

Old diaries, mobile telephones, small suitcases, magazines, picture postcards, photographs, small world toys, soft toys, money, tills, purses and writing materials such as notepads, blank and lined paper, coloured card etc along with interesting pens, pencils and scissors can all provide imaginative stimulation.

A Small World Table offers an ideal starting point for imaginative play. A well sited Giant Chalkboard, Whiteboard, Maths Wall or Poly Paint Station in the outdoor environment enables children to naturally incorporate mark making, reading, writing, numbers and calculations into their socio-dramatic play. A Mark-Making Cabin provides a perfect, sheltered base for make-believe play in the outdoor environment.

Let their imaginations run wild and allow well-being to soar!

Useful Links for Socio-dramatic Play


A Recipe for Perfect Imaginative Play was last modified: May 5th, 2020 by Steve Bell

Comments are closed.