10 Dramatic Play Examples

➡️ Study Card
dramatic play examples and definition, explained below
➡️ Introduction

Dramatic play is a form of symbolic play where children make-believe to be other characters. They imitate the words and actions they have observed from those characters, often by wearing items that symbolize their clothes or accessories.

Dramatic play can be either structured (e.g., school play with scripts) or unstructured (e.g., free-play). Role-plays and puppetry are types of dramatic or ‘pretend play’ that young children enjoy immensely.

Although children enjoy dramatic play, there are many benefitsto their social, emotional, and cognitive development.

Not only does it allow children to exercise their creativity, but it is also a way for them to make sense of their world and express their emotions in a safe context.

When playing with others, it also helps children develop social skills and self-regulation because they will often need to negotiate actions and roles with others.

Dramatic play often involves talking with playmates and exchanging verbal commands, which improves language skills and helps children build social confidence.

Dramatic Play Examples

1. Playing house

Playing house

Kids take on different family roles, like mom, dad, and siblings, while using a toy kitchen to cook pretend meals. They might set the table, serve imaginary food, and even clean up. This play helps them understand family dynamics and practice everyday routines. It also encourages sharing and cooperative play.

2. Playing astronauts

Playing astronauts

With their astronaut helmets on, the kids count down and pretend to launch into space. They might explore imaginary planets, avoid space debris, and talk about what they see. This type of play sparks their imagination and interest in science. It also encourages teamwork and creative thinking.

3. Playing shops

Playing shops

One child acts as the vendor while others pretend to be customers buying fruit with fake money. They practice choosing items, making transactions, and understanding the concept of buying and selling. This play introduces basic math skills and social interactions. It also helps them learn about different types of fruits and vegetables.

4. Playing Cops and Robbers

Playing Cops and Robbers

One group of children pretends to be robbers, while the others act as police officers trying to catch them. They might create scenarios involving hiding, chasing, and capturing. This play helps them understand rules and roles in society. It also promotes physical activity and teamwork.

5. Puppet Shows

Puppet Shows

With hand puppets on, the kids create characters that talk to each other and share pretend candy. They might put on a little show, inventing stories and dialogues. This type of play enhances their creativity and communication skills. It also allows them to express themselves in a fun and imaginative way.

6. Mock-up salon

Mock-up salon

Children take turns being the stylist and the customer, using toy brushes and hairdryers to style each other’s hair. They might create different looks and even give pretend haircuts. This play helps them practice fine motor skills and creativity. It also fosters cooperation and role-playing.

7. Superhero dress-ups

Superhero dress-ups

Dressed as their favorite superheroes, the kids imagine fighting villains and saving the day. They might create elaborate battle scenes and rescue missions. This play encourages imagination and storytelling. It also helps them understand concepts of good and bad, and promotes physical activity.

8. Being a bee!

Being a bee

With bee hats on, the children buzz around the room pretending to be bees. They might pretend to collect nectar, make honey, and interact with other “bees.” This play teaches them about the life of bees and nature. It also encourages movement and imaginative role-playing.

9. Playing doctor

Playing doctor

Using a toy stethoscope, the child pretends to be a doctor checking the health of a doll. They might listen to the doll’s heart, take its temperature, and diagnose pretend illnesses. This play helps them learn about healthcare and empathy. It also encourages nurturing behavior and imaginative play.

10. Having a play Tea Party

Having a play Tea Party

The children sit around a table with a small plastic tea-set, pouring tea and serving imaginary treats to each other. They practice manners, taking turns, and engaging in polite conversation. This play helps them develop social skills and imagination. It also fosters a sense of friendship and cooperation.

Dramatic Play Benefits

➡️ 1. Self-Regulation

1. Self-Regulation

Dramatic play often involves negotiating actions and roles with playmates and resolving disputes. Developing these skills may also improve a child’s self-regulation and inhibitory control.

To test this hypothesis, Khomais et al. (2019) examined the relation between dramatic play at home and strength of self-regulation.

The participants were 60 public school preschoolers in Makkah, Saudi Arabia. Mothers were asked to observe their child at home for one week and then respond to a questionnaire about their child’s dramatic play. The questionnaire consisted of six subscales, including use of Symbolic Actions and Tools, and Interaction with Others.

Self-regulation was assessed using a known method that asks children to touch the opposite body part of what the instructions state. So, when the experimenter says “touch your head,” the child should touch their toes instead.

“The results showed that the only dimension that could significantly predict self-regulation score is “interaction with others”, while other dimensions were not statistically significant predictors” (p. 106).

➡️ 2. Seeing Things from Other Points of View

2. Seeing Things from Other Points of View

Because dramatic play often involves children interacting with other children and pretending to be other characters, it can improve their perspective-taking. When acting like another character, the child will naturally start to see things from their point of view.

This can be applied in a classroom setting to help children understand the importance of various social issues, or environmentalism.

For example, a third-grade teacher may be teaching a unit on animal habitats and creates a play that includes: a mother tiger, two cubs, a small group of tourists, tour guide, hotel owner, and poacher.

In the first scene, the tourists and guide are taking photos of a mother tiger and her cubs. They are having a great time and then return to the hotel, where they pay for their room, have dinner, and pay for their dinner. The hotel owner is pleased to accept the business.

In the next scene, the poacher kidnaps the tiger family and ships them off to different zoos. Shortly afterwards the tourists arrive again only to find the tigers all gone. They express their disappointment, check-out of the hotel and return to their homes.

The students run the play for a week, each time taking turns playing different roles. The next week, the teacher holds a class discussion wear students take turns wearing the hat for each role and talking about what happened from that character’s point of view.

➡️ 3. Improving Executive Functions

3. Improving Executive Functions

Executive function can be defined as “cognitive processes that are required for the conscious, top-down control of action, thought, and emotions, and that are associated with neural systems involving the prefrontal cortex” (Müller &Liben, 2015, p. 271).

Since dramatic play involves cognitive processes such as inhibitory control and self-regulation, it seems logical to conclude that it would improve overall executive functions (EF).

Veraksa et al. (2019) tested the hypothesis that dramatic play improves EF. Eighty children 5-6 years old played either a hero, a sage, a villain, or no character (control condition).

Boys played Batman while girls played a princess heroine. The sage was represented by a sorcerer or sorceress. The kids wore costumes and accessories to help them become more fully involved in the character.

Using an accepted measure of EF, the results revealed“…children in the Sage and Control conditions showed significantly improved performance on [EF] tasks. Children who were asked to play protagonists and villains did not show any significant improvements in [EF]” (p. 12).

The authors suggest that playing Batman or a princess was a very strong emotional experience for the kids and therefore weakened their EF. Whereas the sage character was all about being wise and therefore improved EF.

➡️ 4. Learning Prosocial Behaviors

4. Learning Prosocial Behaviors

As many scholars have stated (Vygotsky, 2004) imaginary play informs the child about what is appropriate in real-life situations.

“This ability to transfer skills from the imaginary to the real world is supported by research….contributes to the development of an understanding of the social relations, thinking and emotional states of other people …” (Veraksa et al., 2019, p. 3).

This is one reason teachers like to use plays and role-plays in their classrooms. Kids learn better through play than trying to sit still long enough for their teacher to explain something.

In addition to teaching kids about how to handle peer pressure or develop healthy habits, dramatic play can also teach children about the importance of wearing seatbelts.

The play Crash depicts a scenario of two families taking a quick drive to the market. One family buckles-up while the other family does not.

Not long afterwards, the two cars crash. One family is seriously hurt and needs to go to the emergency room. The family that wore seatbelts are all okay.

When the play is finished, the teacher guides a class discussion on the importance of wearing seatbelts. Students will then take the lesson learned in dramatic play and apply it to their real lives.

Gender Differences in Dramatic Play

A lot of research has found substantial gender differences in the play of boys and girls (Pellegrini & Smith, 1998). Boys prefer large spaces and rough-and-tumble play, while girls prefer cooperative play and toys that involve fine-motor skills.

But, are there gender differences in preferred play companions in dramatic play?

Carlson and Taylor (2005) studied 77 boys and 75 girls ages 4 and 5 years old. The children were observed and recorded during two 45-minute play sessions. After each session the children were asked about what they were doing during the play-time, if they had imaginary friends or enjoyed impersonating others.

The results were quite interesting. As the researchers explain, “…girls were more likely than boys to have imaginary companions, whereas boys were more likely than girls to impersonate characters. Furthermore, there was a significant sex difference in the form of imaginary companions, in which girls’ companions were more often invisible and boys’ were more often based on toys” (p. 111).


Dramatic play serves many functions in the child’s development. It helps them make sense of the world in which they live and enhances their social and emotional development.

Children love to act-out roles they see in their everyday lives. This can be in the form of pretending to cook dinner, drive a car, or pretend to be superheroes with super powers.

Teachers often use dramatic play to help children develop good habits and learn how to handle certain social situations. It is sometimes easier for children to learn a valuable lesson while participating in dramatic play rather than listening to an adult.

➡️ References and Further Reading


Carlson, S. M., & Taylor, M. (2005). Imaginary companions and impersonated characters: Sex differences in children’s fantasyplay. Merrill-Palmer Quarterly, 51, 93-118. http://dx.doi.org/10.1353/mpq.2005.0003

Khomais, S., Al-Khalidi, N., & Alotaibi, D. (2019). Dramatic Play in Relation to Self-Regulation in Preschool Age. Contemporary Issues in Education Research, 12(4), 103-112.

Pellegrini, A. D., & Smith, P. K. (1998). Physical activity play: The nature and
function of a neglected aspect of play. Child Development, 69, 577–610.

Müller, U., &Liben, L. S. (2015). The development of Executive Function. In R. M. Lerner, L. S. Liben, U. Mueller, R. M. Lerner, L. S. Liben& U. Mueller (Eds.), Handbook of Child Psychology and Developmental Science, Cognitive Processes (pp. 571-613). Somerset, England: John Wiley & Sons, Incorporated.

Veraksa, A., Gavrilova, M., Bukhalenkova, D., Almazova, O., Veraksa, N., & Colliver, Y. (2019). Does Batman ™ affect EF because he is benevolent or skillful? The effect of different pretend roles on preschoolers’ executive functions. Early Child Development and Care, 191(2). 1-17. https://doi.org/10.1080/03004430.2019.1658091

Vygotsky, L. S.(1967).Play and Its Role in the Mental Development of the Child.Soviet Psychology,5(3),6-18. https://doi.org/0.2753/RPO1061-040505036 Vygotsky, L. S. (2004). Imagination and creativity in childhood. Journal of Russian and East European Psychology, 42(1), 7-97.

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Dr. Cornell has worked in education for more than 20 years. His work has involved designing teacher certification for Trinity College in London and in-service training for state governments in the United States. He has trained kindergarten teachers in 8 countries and helped businessmen and women open baby centers and kindergartens in 3 countries.

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This article was peer-reviewed and edited by Chris Drew (PhD). The review process on Helpful Professor involves having a PhD level expert fact check, edit, and contribute to articles. Reviewers ensure all content reflects expert academic consensus and is backed up with reference to academic studies. Dr. Drew has published over 20 academic articles in scholarly journals. He is the former editor of the Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education and holds a PhD in Education from ACU.

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