Children love to play. They especially love to play and pretend to be someone or something else. But what are the benefits of role play for children?
In this article I'll go over the general benefits of role play, then I'll look at how role play can work alongside numeracy and literacy. Finally I'll explain how role play can take place at home and outdoors- and it can always be fun!
When working in the classroom role play is a key area of early years learning and across the primary curriculum. It isn't unusual for people to assume that role play might take place in a Reception classroom and then not beyond. This assumption is, unfortunately, often seen in teaching practise too. The children's role play costumes make way for textbooks and the role play area is replaced by a working wall. However it doesn't have to be this way and there are (I'm sure!) thousands of teachers who include role play as a focus in their classrooms.
An amazingly awesome dinosaur role play area!
I'm here to be an advocate for role play at home and to encourage parents to keep it available as an option. Arguably role play is an easier play style to encourage at home because children have access to all of their toys and can choose dependent on their moods!
The Benefits of Role Play - What are they?
Although it might just appear to be play for playing's sake, there are a plethora of benefits which are sometimes hidden and sometimes plain to see when your child is role playing. It could be physically, mentally or socially:
- Cognitive Development - When children engage with role play toys or dress up in clothes they are encouraging their brains to develop. They have to access memories about how to act and call upon their knowledge of appropriate behaviour dependent on the situation they are pretending to be in. They might be acting as a teacher and this will require them to access memories from school, then consider the role they want to play, and then enact that role accurately.
- Social Interaction - Working in a group isn't always straight forward. Even as adults there are many scenarios where team work isn't easy. Role play teaches children how to work together, developing turn-taking skills and cooperation.
- Vocabulary Building - Children could be acting as policemen, or chefs, or mechanics, or shop assistants- each of these uses a different vocabulary set and every scenario that they're in requires a new set of words. These words then get stored in the child's vocabulary to be accessed in future conversations.
- Empathy - Empathy is a skill that blossoms when it's nurtured in children. Role play, by its very design, encourages children to see the world through another person's eyes. They will be able to empathise with the people they interact with in a shop or with the policeman on the street or even their own parents!
- Emotions - A similar skill set to empathy; through learning and playing in different roles children can practise different emotions. They are exposed to a wide variety of different emotions on a daily basis through television, the internet and real life. Some of these emotions can be scary and intimidating for children. By playing with them in role play they can understand them and overcome any fears they might have.
Role Play for Maths and Literacy
This is a classroom favourite but is easily replicated at home. It can be as simple as kids pretending to be a shopkeeper and charging you extortionate prices for their, frankly, ordinary products. There are hundreds of toys out there to help facilitate this style of play. A simple cash register, a few products and that's all they need.
When children are ready to use numbers there are a huge variety of activities that they can carry out. The most typical will be receiving money and providing change. This is a relatively difficult skill, especially when working with more than 1 digit numbers. This would make a great role play activity for children in Year 2 or above. Simply playing with money and coins and getting used to the interactions and processes involved will grant children greater confidence when dealing with mathematical situations.
At a lower level, a role play activity for preschoolers would be to simply ask them for an amount of coins or an amount of an item. "Can I have 3 apples please?" will encourage and develop basic counting skills which will give them a perfect start to maths skills.
A great starting product would be our Casdon Cash Register, it has all the items needed for them to start playing immediately! It's perfect to create a children's role play centre at home. This one even has a chip and pin card with it! Click on the image to learn more.
When it comes to literacy there are a variety of ways to create a role play environment for your kids. In fact, we wrote a blog all about how to encourage writing at home. Rather than rehashing it click on the picture below and have see what tips we have:
Role Play at home and outdoors
The great thing about playing at home is that there doesn't have to be (and nor should there always be!) a defined purpose. The best part of role playing at home is that children aren't even aware that they are developing these skills. It all happens naturally and subconsciously.
That's not to say that you can't help things along a little. When kids have a collection of kitchen tools or a mechanics play set they naturally begin to role play with these toys. The same can be said for the outdoors. Give them the ability to build a den or a castle and chances are it'll happen! Children have a way of developing role play without even thinking about it!
Probably the coolest mechanics role play area ever.
When children role play at home they are encouraged to use their imagination. As adults we are forced to use our imaginations every day to problem solve, to research and to create. When you're sat reading a good book, no one has shown you what you're supposed to see (unless you're someone who watches the film before reading the book!) and it's from a background of imaginative play that we have the skill set to do this.
If you're looking for a quick start to getting your kids role playing and learning through play then consider having a look at our role play collection. You can access it through the menu above or you can click on the image below!
If you combine this home-based play with learning outdoors then you're onto a sure winner. There are huge benefits to learning outdoors. We recently wrote a blog post all about these benefits, read the excerpt below and click on the picture to learn more.
"As most of you well know, when children are babies they learn through touching and feeling their way around the world. The same can be said for children of an older age. When children get hands on with the world around them they learn far quicker. A great deal of children are kinaesthetic learners. This means they learn through doing and learn through tactile objects. When we take children outdoors and let them climb the trees, jump in the puddles and squelch the mud they absorb all of the information about the world around them."
Time to reap the benefits of role play
This is just starting to scrape the surface of the huge benefits that children can gain from learning through role play. Give them the right tools and the right environment and they will do all the hard work themselves! Have you had good (or bad!) experiences with role play? Have you got an amazing role play corner? Let us know in the comment below!