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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.

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