Role play in early years settings

I know you will enjoy this guest post written by Julie Meighan, author of Drama Start!

Role Play in Early Years Settings

By Julie Meighan

Role play is a very important part of a child’s education. The imagination is a powerful tool which as we know is innate in some children but needs encouraging in others. It is important that preschools provide children with the opportunity to develop their imagination. In order to accomplish this they have to equip the children with spaces, scenarios, props and the support they need to explore their real life or imaginary worlds. Imaginative play not only aids intellectual development but also improves children’s social skills and their creativity. In addition it gives children a chance to play out events that they have observed or experienced in real life.

Role Play and Everyday Scenarios

Using the home as a setting for role play works extremely well with children as the home plays an important role in each young child’s life.

Setting up the role-play corner as a house may sound simple enough but unfortunately in lots of preschool certain things are over looked. You need to include all the tools needed for the role play to take place. If you wish to focus on hygiene you need to include the following props – a cloth, washing up bottle, tea towel, bin and sink or if you want them to focus on health and safety you need to get them to use oven gloves, trays, timers, hot pads, and towels.

Role Plays and Imagined Worlds

These role plays take place in places where the children are very unlikely to visit such as the moon or under the sea and they can meet characters that they are very unlikely to meet such as a dragon or a talking bear.

An example of a role playing story that I find works well with young child is the Hungry tree. This is an excellent introduction to improvisation as the children are free to explore their imaginations. It also helps with their co-ordination skills.

Instructions to the Hungry Tree

The teacher tells the children the following story and the children have to improvise the movements in the story. The teacher gets the children to imagine that they are an adventurer who wants to go on an adventure. They have to pack up their bags. The teacher asks what they need in the bags. Children’s answers are usually for example water, sandwiches, sun cream, and sunglasses and so on. The children mime putting all these essentials into their bag and then mime all the actions in the adventure below…

The teacher says  “Imagine you are walking quickly because you are so happy to be on your adventure. You see a mountain and decide you should climb it. The sun is getting hotter and hotter and you are getting tired. You get very, very tired. You wipe your brow to show how tired you are. You begin to climb slower and slower. You are very thirsty. You take out your water and take a drink. You put it back in your bag and climb the rest of the way up the mountain. Eventually you get to the top. You are exhausted, very hot and very hungry. You decide it is time for your picnic. You see a lovely tree and you go and sit under its shade. You eat your picnic and go for a nap. Then suddenly you wake up and see the tree moving towards you. The tree grabs you and you realise it is a very hungry tree and wants to eat you. You scream. You struggle. You fight the branches but you are getting weaker and weaker. Then suddenly the tree stops fighting for a moment. You get your chance to escape. You quickly grab your bag, and run back down the mountain. You get to the end and you don’t stop in case the hungry tree is running after you. You run all the way home, lock all the doors and hide under the table.”

In settings where both of these types of role play are offered, the play which develops is deeper, more complex and more intense, giving the children richer experiences. Allowing children to lose themselves
in role play engages them in play that is purposeful and produces such outcomes as sharing, turn taking, co-operation, improving hand eye skills and develops their vocabulary.

Time for Role Play is Vital!

More Role Playing Ideas

If you wish to read more ideas about role playing games that can be used with young children, please go to Drama Start and enter the coupon JG87H and you will receive a copy of the book for a special price of $1.50.

About Julie

Julie Meighan is a lecturer in Drama in Education at the Cork Institute of Technology. She has taught Drama to all age groups and levels. She is the author of “Drama Start”.

Be sure to stop by Julie’s blog Earlyedugrama!

Julie is the author of Drama Start. “Drama Start’ is a collection of drama activities, including games, role playing ideas, action poems, plays and monologues, suitable for children between the ages of 3 and 8. It can be used in Early Years’ settings or in primary schools.”

Julie’s book is available for purchase at Amazon from the following links…

Or you can go to and enter the following coupon JG87H and get Julie’s book for an introductory price of $1.50.

Thank you Julie for sharing your wonderful book and ideas with us here on Teach Preschool!

Photos for this article were taken and added by Deborah J. Stewart

By |2018-12-20T14:52:13+00:00June 12th, 2011|

About the Author:

Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. has been working and teaching in the field of early childhood education for over 30 years. Deborah currently owns and teaches in her own part-time, private preschool called The Children’s Studio. Deborah’s deep passion for teaching and working with young children is documented and then graciously shared with millions of readers around the world through her blog and other social networking communities. Deborah believes that young children learn best through play and exploration and embraces this belief in all that she does in her own classroom so that she can effectively and passionately share rewarding, real- life, tried-and-true practices with other teachers, parents, and leaders across the field of early childhood education.


  1. Melissa @imaginationsoup June 20, 2011 at 12:02 pm - Reply

    Totally agree – can’t wait to visit your blog, thanks!

  2. Dee Dunne October 23, 2011 at 4:40 pm - Reply

    I agree that it is very important that children are given the opportunity to engage in role-play. However I think that an over emphasis on props and a realistic ‘set’ does not necessarily lead to the development of play. All of the tools and props you mentioned as essential –

    ‘You need to include all the tools needed for the role play to take place’

    – they can limit the children and I have seen them get in the way of the children interacting. Should our objectives for the home corner be that the role-play leads to social learning? Its important too that the adult/teacher intervenes in the role-play in order to heighten the learning. To challenge the children’s thinking and focus their ideas. Im not against theme corners but we need to be aware of the types of learning that takes place in such a well defined ‘kitchen’ or ‘house’, especially when children are left to their own devices and the teacher never intervenes. Ive seen children engage in dominant and aggressive behaviour using those tools often for other reasons than initially intended!

    • Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. October 23, 2011 at 5:00 pm - Reply

      I agree with you! I think so many steps for role play takes away the “play”!

  3. […]  Interactive books, games, and puzzles are fantastic toys for 3 year old boys.  Encourage role playing with play sets like kitchens, work benches, and cash […]

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