I scanned our menu trying to decide what I wanted to eat. This restaurant was a little limited on choices. I could choose pizza, chicken nuggets, or ice cream. I finally made my decision. “I’ll have the pizza with milk, please,” I told my son, Jacob.
“We’re out of milk,” Jacob said with a twinkle in his eye. Of course you are. He loves to make you choose something else. “What can I choose then?” “Coffee or water.” “Ok, I’ll take the coffee, please.” “Comin’ right up!” he said as he collected my menu and bounded to his kitchen in the corner of the room.
I watched him meticulously make the coffee like he sees his daddy do every morning. Pretend water in the pot, pour it in the coffee maker, scoop the coffee, press start.
Once he got that going, he started on my pizza. He carefully found the ingredients he needed and put them in the oven before setting his imaginary timer and busying himself with the imaginary dishes in the sink.
Two minutes later “ding!” he practically screamed as he pulled my pizza out of the oven. He brought it over to me and waited to see my reaction. “Do you like it?” His eyes were waiting for my delight in his hard work. “It’s the most delicious pizza I’ve ever eaten, thank you,” I raved. He beamed.
Importance of Role-Play
Role-play helps kids understand the world around them. They practice social interactions with others, and doing this in a safe environment gives them the chance to process, plan and prepare for when they will encounter a similar situation in the future.
Dramatic play (also called role-play) builds essential skills. Through pretending to be in different situations, kids develop social skills, emotional skills, better communication, and problem-solving skills.
Kids practice creativity and imagination by playing in new ways, and the more they use creativity and imagination, the stronger those skills become. In a world full of technology, creativity and imagination are more important than ever.
Role-play allows children to make sense of situations they will encounter in real life. They can mimic things they’ve seen adults do, or practice their reactions to situations they haven’t had to navigate yet.
How do you role-play with kids?
It’s important not to try to guide kids’ play when role-playing. Allowing the children to come up with their own scenarios, reactions, and problems will give them more of an opportunity to learn the important skills that role-playing promotes.
Is Role-Play Normal for Kids?
Not only is it normal for kids to role-play, but there are many benefits for kids! Dramatic play is a safe way for kids to explore the world around them while developing essential social and emotional skills.
Role-Play Ideas for Kids
The role-play ideas for kids are endless. Often, children will pretend to be someone they have seen regularly, like their doctor, or the postman. Kids also love to pretend to do mommy or daddy’s job. My son will ask “So, what did you do at work today, Daddy?” and then will pretend to do those same tasks. Children love to mimic the adults or characters they admire.
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Here Are Our 30 Favorite Role-Play Ideas
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Kids love to play doctor. Grab a doctor kit and a white coat. It’s fun to throw in some extra gauze or fabric if you have some extra in your medicine cabinet to wrap up any injuries, and don’t forget stickers for the doctor to give to patients at the end of the visit. Children love to perform check-ups on you, their stuffed animals, or the family pet.
While you are playing doctor is a great time to talk about being brave (if you have to get any shots) and to practice what happens at a doctor visit. We usually play doctor before our regular trips to the doctor, and it makes kids more comfortable with what is going to happen when we visit the doctor.
Playing doctor is a simple way to teach your child their phone number. Make sure you and your child check in at the registration desk before the appointment to exchange the necessary information.
We always play dentist before we get our teeth cleaned. It helps kids be more comfortable when they know what to expect, and it teaches good hygiene. All you need is a good recliner and a doctor or dentist kit. Don’t forget a spotlight so you can see in your patient’s mouth.
Growing up, I loved to play store. I wanted to be the “checker.” All those buttons to push, and the “beep” you got to make when checking customers out made this an exciting game. Set up items in lines for isles, and use an end table for the checkout. Don’t forget your cash register and money.
Kids love playing restaurant. You can play sitting on the couch, or you can spice it up with a table, tablecloth, aprons, the whole 9 yards. Kids enjoy going out to eat, and they love pretending to serve you at home.
Take it up a notch by making your own menu, name tags, and outfits. An empty gift card will make a great pretend debit card, and don’t forget a pen and paper to take orders (and practice those fine motor skills!)
Playing house is always a favorite activity. Kids are watching you carefully every day, cooking, cleaning, and caring for them. They are excited to try these activities out for themselves. Not much is needed to play house, you can use what toys you already have at home, or even get creative with an oversize box to make a playhouse (or tape several boxes together). Boxes with windows are the best!
At one point or another, almost every child wants to play teacher, and they love for their family members to be the students. This is simple to play, you’ll need a few chairs for your students, and a whiteboard or chalkboard to teach your lessons on. Dressing up in grown-up clothes for the teacher is a bonus!
7. Postal Worker
We get so excited when the mail comes every day. My boys love to watch for the mailman and see if he puts any mail in our mailbox. Naturally, we end up playing mailman quite a bit.
All you need is a shoebox for every member of your family, and allow every person to decorate their mailbox. Make sure their name is clearly written on the side and cut a slit in the top. The mailboxes could be outside of each person’s room, or just around the house.
Write notes or draw pictures to others, put them in an envelope, and write their name on the outside. You can even have a special mailbox or basket to put outgoing mail in, and when it’s time, the mailman/mail lady has to deliver the mail to the correct mailbox.
Don’t forget to send a real letter to a friend for a lesson on how the mail system works.
8. Sports Player
Kids love pretending to play sports, and especially if mom or dad watch sports or if an older sibling plays a sport, your youngster may want to imitate what they see. Luckily this requires almost no props! You can do it all with imagination or grab the necessary equipment and make a uniform.
9. Mom/Dad’s Profession
Imitating mom and dad is always a popular choice. When you are telling your child about your day, they will likely pick up on some key tasks you do while at work.
If you have any extra supplies laying around the house that you would use for work, pull those out. (As a teacher, most of my supplies came from home so it would be simple to recreate a simplified version of my classroom.)
A bonus to this is when you are telling your child about your day, they are also learning how to tell you about their day. This will come in handy later!
If your child has ever joined you on a trip to the vet, it’s likely at one point or another you will have a veterinarian’s office in your home. Hopefully your pet doesn’t mind all of the poking and prodding that is likely to happen during their checkup.
If you don’t have a pet, stuffed animals are always a good substitute. They are more patient and always cooperate during their visit to the vet.
I’m not sure if my boys would know what a bank is. We do all of our deposits online and rarely visit the bank. Once your child is old enough to open their own savings account and make trips to deposit money into that account, the bank is a popular imaginary job.
You will need some pretend money, a way to organize the money, pieces of paper and pens to write receipts, and maybe an old calculator.
If your kids have ever been camping, have read stories about camping, or seen it on tv, this would be a popular (and simple) activity to try. Have the kids go outside, and if you want to go all out, set up a tent. Kids can run around the yard to explore nature, go on hikes, and look for wildlife. Give them a bug catcher and a magnifying glass, sit back, and see what they do with it.
It’s satisfying to plant and grow your own food. Months of planning and hard work come to fruition in the fall. If your child has experienced this or has watched you tend to your garden, they may pretend to have a garden of their own. Make vegetables to plant out of cardboard, or grab a garden playset.
Your child can take pride when they build something. A birdhouse, box, toy, or even hammering nails into pieces of wood are real accomplishments. They will love to pretend to make whatever strikes their imaginations. Cut cardboard of different shapes and sizes, give them some tape and glue and let their imagination run wild.
15. Construction Worker
Hardhats, hammers and building blocks are required! How high can you build a tower? A skyscraper? Use building blocks, magnatiles, lincoln logs, duplos, or grab giant sheets of cardboard to construct your masterpiece.
Have a younger child as well? Mix this with acting out the Three Little Pigs. Babies make perfect actors for the part of the Big Bad Wolf and love knocking down houses. Older children are less upset when they expect, or even want their house to be knocked down.
Every child loves to be a hero. Kiddos love to be the “rescuer.” All children want to be important and needed-what a better way to be needed than rescuing someone from a burning building. Stuffed animals, your beloved family pet, or a little sibling all need to be rescued when fire threatens. Make a firetruck out of an old box, straps, red spray paint, and red solo cups (add glow sticks for added effect), put on your firefighter costume, and save the world!
This is also a good time to sneak in some fire safety. If there was a fire in your house, what do you want your children to do? What’s your meeting place? Do they know how to check the door to see if it’s hot? Do they know multiple ways to get out of your house?
17. Police Man
The job of the police is more complex than just taking bad guys to jail and writing traffic tickets, but oftentimes that’s what we think of when we’re little kids. This is a great time to explain how the police help keeps us safe. Grab a police uniform and protect your neighborhood.
Nobody is more heroic than a superhero. They can do anything. Capture robbers, save someone who is choking, save the playground or the entire city, superheroes can do it all!
When I was little, nothing beat a beautiful dress that would spin! Life was as it should be when I was dressed up, wearing little girl shoes with heels and a beautiful dress.
Children are natural explorers. Their curiosity runs wild when thinking about what else is out there. They can’t wait to learn all about space and pretend to be in a rocketship exploring. After reading a few books about space, make a spacesuit out of white sweats, and a space helmet out of cardboard.
What a fun job for those littles just learning to write! Set them up with a desk, an old keyboard (who doesn’t love pressing keys?), a cordless phone with buttons, crayons, colored pencils, markers, and lots of paper and pens. Watch their imagination run wild creating stories for kids to read! Have them read their stories back to you when they’re finished.
This is always a fun thing to pretend! I still pretend to be a signer…when I’m cooking in the kitchen, my spoon magically turns into a microphone and I put on the show of a lifetime…as long as nobody is watching.
Kids love to do the same. Make a microphone (anything will do, a spoon, toy microphone, or marker), make a stage, and even a spotlight. Turn the music up loud and watch them light up when they have a captive, cheering audience.
23. Office Worker
The office is a place full of mystery for young kiddos. They know offices exist, and have caught glimpses of them here and there on tv, or maybe have even heard some stories about “a day at the office” from mom or dad. To littles, an office is a magical place, full of lots of work to do. And buttons to push. So many buttons. The keyboard, the phone, the calculator is all great fun for the little ones. Set them up with their own office and watch them light up as they conquer the important work of the world.
Turning up the music and dancing around the kitchen is one of our favorite things to do. For some kiddos, dancing around the kitchen while cooking dinner may not cut it. If your child loves to dance, they will love to put on a show for all to admire.
In our house, that means the couch cushion gets put in the middle of the living room while my 4-year-old announces excitedly “The show is about to begin!” and we all gather around. We turn on some good music, or sometimes he sings his own and he loves to boogie!
To do this in your house, you can use a couch cushion or make a stage out of pillows or blankets. Don’t forget a microphone if your little performer is going to sing, and a costume and spotlight always make it more fun!
Does your child have a favorite animal? It’s fun to pretend to be that animal. Pretending to be in the wild, or an imaginary version of that animal that can talk, it doesn’t matter. Make a costume that resembles the animal, and don’t forget a mask out of cardboard.
26. Favorite Book/Show
We all have favorite characters that we admire, and kids love to imitate those they love. It’s exciting to act out books or scenes from their favorite show. Grab any props you’ll need (especially if you’re acting out a book), and make a costume that resembles your favorite characters.
Kids love animals, and if they’ve had the opportunity to visit the zoo, it’s fun to pretend to care for all the animals. Kids love pretending to have jobs with great responsibility, and the zookeeper has an enormous responsibility. All kinds of animals to feed, care for, make sure they get enough exercise, and stay healthy.
Gather all of your stuffed animals and put them in their own cages. Boxes, tubs, bins, or even Tupperware make great pretend cages.
You might even use painter’s tape to mark off a cage on the floor for animals that need a lot of room to run and play. Grab your doctor kit, and pretend food before making your rounds to check on the animals.
This is the perfect way to play for story lovers. Kids love exploring books, and what a great way to explore countless books. Set up the check-out desk next to a bookshelf that’s loaded with your favorite books. Visiting your library is the perfect way to prepare for the real thing and to review expectations on how to act. Grab a stamp and don’t forget to make library cards.
Playing in the dirt is a great sensory experience for kids. Put on some of their favorite play clothes and head outside for a day on the farm. You can even take some stuffed animals with you to be your farm animals. The tasks on a farm are never complete and are sure to keep your little explorer busy for hours.
30. Train Engineer
The fascination of trains for littles is powerful. We live in an area with lots of trains, and I would purposefully get in the line of traffic that’s stopped by the train just so we could watch it go by.
Make your own train by tying laundry baskets or boxes together. Your little engineer will love driving their train around to different stations, allowing stuffed animals off and pick some more up, or to unload and re-load cargo.
Role-Play is Great Practice
Remember to let your kiddo lead the way when role-playing. They can imagine any scenario they want, and you are along for the ride. What a great opportunity for your kiddo to practice social skills, emotional skills, and problem-solving skills… and for us to practice patience, especially when the restaurant you love is always out of milk.
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What are your favorite role-play ideas for kids?