Here’s To A House With The Most: A Self-Reg Look At Our Dramatic Play Space

Here’s To A House With The Most: A Self-Reg Look At Our Dramatic Play Space

As a Kindergarten teacher, I understand the value of dramatic play. I know that students communicate much of their thinking and learning in this way. There are so many opportunities for oral language, including the development of new vocabulary, as part of dramatic play. But the truth is, I rarely like our dramatic play space. I actually find it very dysregulating.

  • It’s usually really loud.
  • There are always cats. I don’t know why this happens. The space can be anything from a house to a restaurant, and yet, before long, there will always be some meowing.
  • It tends to pull students away from their play in other areas of the classroom. Just as the play seems to settle, it becomes unsettled again with too many children involved.
  • It never seems to move forward. Day after day, students become involved in the same conversations and the same play. My teaching partner, Paula, and I might get involved in this play to try and interrupt it or extend it, but it always goes back to the same thing again.

The interesting part about this is that we both enjoy the dramatic play that happens in the forest. It’s so interesting to watch as students share their knowledge on various topics through this play. They even take on different character roles, and work cooperatively to plan this play with others. The quiet buzz of “family,” almost seems like a calming addition to our daily outdoor learning time.

This has me thinking about why dramatic play is so different in these two different areas.

  • Does the addition of the climbing make it calmer in the forest?
  • What about the connection between sensory play and dramatic play? There’s a bigger connection between both when outside, and does this impact positively on the calming feel of the play?
  • Is it just a matter of space? There is more room to play in our forest, and maybe the extra space makes the noise less prevalent.
  • Is it about having fewer material options? We don’t have a lot of things in our dramatic play area, but outside, all that’s there are trees, sticks, grass, and mud/snow. Maybe this is a case where less really is more.

Paula and I have noted that no matter how we change up the dramatic play inside, children continue to go back to playing “family.” They seem to want a house, but quickly the house play becomes chaotic. What could we do? Involving the children in the set-up and the planning of the play didn’t seem to change the evolution of the play in this space. We were very close to just eliminating this dramatic play space, knowing that dramatic play was happening in different ways all over the classroom. Maybe these other ways were better! It was around this time that Paula found this Instagram post, and texted it to me.

The Children’s Art Factory merged dramatic play and sensory play. Could we do the same? Would the calming nature of our sensory space help calm the dramatic play? We decided to give it a try. The children helped us rearrange our classroom almost three weeks ago … and this was the best change that we ever made!


At the end of every day, Paula and I discuss this space, and considering how much we used to detest dramatic play, we now love it equally as much. What makes dramatic play in this area change from dysregulating to calming?

  • Many of our students find sensory play, self-regulating. Does the sensory component here help calm this play?
  • Now both JK and SK students are drawn to this space. Is it the combination of both playing in this area that help children model for each other and extend the play in ways that it wasn’t being extended before?
  • Our dramatic play is now more central in the classroom, which means that Paula and I walk by here regularly. Does this make it easier for us to insert ourselves into the play earlier, observe it more closely, and interrupt it when necessary?
  • We also have a huge stump as part of this area. While many kids use the stump to display cakes, others move it around to sit on. Is this gross motor component to the play also self-regulating?

Never would I have thought that adding sand to play furniture would be a good idea, and yet, it’s been one of the best decisions that we’ve made. This makes me think about changes to a classroom environment. For all of the big changes that educators often make to a room, is it sometimes just a small change that can have the biggest impact? What are some of your small change success stories? Maybe we can each learn something new from these changes that might positively impact on our classroom spaces.


Aviva Dunsiger has been the Portal Plus Moderator for over a year now and completed the Foundations 1 Certification Program. She has taught everything from Kindergarten to Grade 6 and enjoys blogging about her teaching and learning experiences. She blogs professionally on her blog, Living Avivaloca. Aviva is excited to contribute a monthly post on The MEHRIT Centre Blog.

By | 2019-03-26T08:11:24+00:00 March 26th, 2019|


  1. Lucia Hogeveen June 30, 2019 at 4:06 pm - Reply

    I was so surprised that your experience parallels ours. Why do children always revert to being cats? We created a long counter in our center with various containers available and lots of plastecene. This led to a lot of baking and eventual grey plastecene. I think our janitor would go nuts if we put sand in the dramatic play area. Wonder what else might work.?

    • Aviva Dunsiger July 2, 2019 at 9:25 am - Reply

      That’s interesting, Lucia, how our experiences parallel each other. What if you put some loose parts in this area (a tub full of pompoms, gems, etc.). They’re easier to clean up, but might result in some similar play. The question is though, will they meet the children’s sensory needs? This is where sand was key for us.


    • Connie December 15, 2019 at 6:48 pm - Reply

      Hi Lucia,
      Hi Aviva,

      I used to help run the before and after school programs (Kindergarten age and School Age) and me too! Both groups would do pretend cat or dog play.

      It always made me uncomfortable because I always saw it as a way to dominate or control some of the more submissive/gullible students in the class. So, I started keeping track of the students and which roles they were assigned to/chose during the play, especially with the older group, the school agers.

      There was an incident I interpreted as dominance, so I ended up having to talk to some of the older students. One student explained that they found socializing with certain students overwhelming, so found it easier to ask them to play the game, to get them to go away or follow their instructions.

      The other ECE in the room with me did not want to deal with this. Every time I brought it up and wondered what was going on, they avoided the topic, claimed they didn’t hear or see anything, or just said something along the lines of kids will be kids.

      I remember the student’s parent also getting involved and I don’t think they liked having me raise questions about the animal play.

      It was a crazy (wild) situation and all from meowing and barking in class!

      • Aviva Dunsiger December 17, 2019 at 9:27 pm - Reply

        Thanks for sharing this, Connie! Very interesting. So would this be stress behaviour then? How were you thinking of dealing with this problem? I find it interesting that many kindergarten educators mention this kind of play in their classrooms. Would this be part of a developmental continuum of play? I wonder …


        • Connie December 19, 2019 at 9:46 pm - Reply

          Hi Aviva,

          “So would this be stress behaviour then? How were you thinking of dealing with this problem?”

          I would say that if you can’t communicate what you need or want, then that could lead to feeling unsafe and this is something another self regger has explained to me.

          From what the student said, my takeaway was that they were lacking skills in communicating with others.

          What do you think, Aviva? Would this be stress behaviour?


          • Aviva Dunsiger December 21, 2019 at 11:11 am

            An interesting thought, Connie. It definitely might be. Do we then facilitate/model communication to help relieve the stress, or did you have something else in mind?


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