Reference Work Entry

Encyclopedia of Child Behavior and Development

pp 522-523

Dramatic Play


Creative dramatics; Fantasy play; Pretend play; Pretension play; Socio-dramatic play; Symbolic play


Dramatic play permits children to fit the reality of the world into their own interests and knowledge. Dramatic play gives the child the opportunity to release his/her emotions while feeling less threatened and exposed owing to the distance that dramatic play creates from his/her problems [1, 3].


Dramatic play includes role-playing, puppetry, and fantasy play. It does not require interaction with another. By acting out experience, he/she comes into contact with reality. It is constructive for the child to remember situations through play and to have the opportunity to repeat them and work through them. Socio-dramatic play is dramatic play with the additional component of social interaction with either a peer or teacher [1]. Creative dramatics involves spontaneous, creative play. Children frequently reenact a scene or a story.

Relevance to Childhood Development

One of the purest forms of symbolic thought available to young children, dramatic play contributes strongly to the intellectual development of children [1]. Symbolic play is a necessary part of a child’s language development [1]. Creative dramatic play is structured and incorporates the problem solving skills of planning and evaluation. Planning and evaluating occurs in creative dramatics [1]. Porter [2] and Dunne [2] regard dramatic play as a form of play that offers the child client the opportunity to grow by acting out situations and dramatizing in a safe, non-threatening environment. Krüger [2] uses pretension play and symbolic play as terms interchangeable with dramatic play. To use this form of play effectively, the therapist should have a clear picture of the child client’s situation. A great deal of inventiveness is also required of the therapist. Dramatic play is especially suitable for use in the change-oriented phase of helping as it focuses on problem solving. This process may lead to emotional growth, development and mastering, for instance, when the child acts out the first visit to a parent after divorce. New or specific roles can be learned when exercising these through dramatic play. While the child is playing, the therapist has the opportunity of evaluating current role behavior. This is followed by helping the child to practice new possibilities. The therapist may even model new roles. Dramatic play creates a special means of communication between therapist and child client. Important information can come to the forefront, for instance, while playing with a doll’s house. During dramatic play, the child can manage his/her world as he/she likes. By playing through situations over and over again, insight into certain aspects of his/her situation may develop. Often, the child’s questions are answered during dramatic play. A tape recorder can be used in conjunction with dramatic play. While listening to his/her own play, the child may develop insight. Porter [2] claims that aids and apparatus are not so important for this type of play. They can be used, though, to make interviews interesting and full of fun. Therapeutic aids must be chosen according to each child’s stage of development, age, motivation for therapy and intellectual ability. For example, Van der Merwe [4] has found that dramatic play was the ideal form of play for some of the respondents in research that she conducted on children of divorced parents. One child dramatized almost all the time. She was creative and had a good imagination. Her mother planned to remarry and the respondent would then go to boarding school. She acted this situation out with dolls. She also made a book containing all the pictures that she had drawn of the stories that she made up. Other respondents did not respond as well to this play form. They never progressed further than tidying up the doll’s house. This again stresses the importance of individualization when determining the forms of play to use in an intervention plan. Van der Merwe [4] also established that children generally personalize the dolls quickly by talking to and about them as, for instance, mom and dad. It was also a common occurrence for children to talk softly while they played with the dolls, therefore making it easy for the researcher to keep track of their playing. Some children talk to the dolls in a kind of a teacher/instructor manner [4].

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2011
Show all