What’s in your… role play area?

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By Fe Luton

In this series, Fe Luton explores the ways in which you can set up and run areas of your continuous provision. Ideas for organisation, resources and planning are explored.

children doing role play

How should my role play area be arranged?

Role play offers children an array of opportunities to express themselves and to interact socially with others. It helps them to explore feelings and to understand and develop the skills of decision making. It also offers them opportunities to develop very specific and new sets of language skills.

A role play area should reflect familiar scenarios (e.g. families or schools), scenarios from experience (e.g. museum, cafe, GP, shopping etc.), children’s own ideas for role play, fantasy role play and the use of child ‘experts’ to help develop scenarios (e.g. children who have been on an aeroplane or those who camp regularly). You should ensure that you model role play yourself; you could even show children programmes such as Cbeebies’ Biggleton to help them understand and develop role play skills.

Role play is particularly key in the development of language, social interactions and imagination. However, it also lends itself to the exploration of mathematics in real and purposeful contexts as well as discovering and understanding the world around us.

Consider the following when organising your role play area:
  • Remember that this is a rehearsal area for real life, so ensure that children’s experiences in your role play reflect their reality (if they don’t go to a travel agents on a regular basis they don’t have the experience to role play it)
  • Ensure that your role play area is not too busy – resources should be readily available but stored in a calm and organised manner. Allow children the freedom of choice to select available props as well as to be able to add to their role play through open-ended resources
  • Use real resources where possible – a real pan is far more exciting than a plastic play one
  • Consider using props to develop language, including the language of conflict resolution and cooperation, for example, by limiting the number of a given popular prop such as a crown
  • Try not to spend hours creating a backdrop that will need changing in two weeks. A neutral backdrop that can be added to easily, or adapted by the children according to need, can be very effective. Perhaps even put large piece of plain paper on the walls for children to create their own backdrop
  • Don’t dictate too much and make sure that your role play area and resources reflect your current cohort and their interests. You don’t even have to have a theme
  • Remember that the fantasy worlds of children’s picture books are relevant, familiar and enticing. For example, The Very Hungry Caterpillar’s cafe, or Stickman’s family tree
  • Give children a central role in the development of this area or even get them to create it themselves and to then manage the area – it is their role play after all. You might like to consider having a deconstructed role play area
  • Have cameras available for use in the same way they are used in day-to-day life, for children to record their experiences
  • Don’t forget to set up and encourage role play outside (props can be transportable for this)

What resources should I have in my role play area?

  • Things that provoke specific language development – limit some props to help children to develop the language of conflict resolution and cooperation. Consider introducing a new language ‘set’ through more complex props for a familiar context such as more unusual kitchen equipment.
  • Open-ended resources – flexible and undefined items, such as boxes and fabrics, not only enable your role play area to become anything at a moment’s notice, but also aid the development of imagination and cost less in the long run.
  • Semi open-ended resources – things that have a purpose but one that can change or be adapted easily, for example, bags and hats will encourage children to develop ideas and move from something ‘safe’ and concrete to a wider array of possibilities.
  • Structural resources – large boxes and sheets or old curtains are great for creating and developing role play areas. A camping washing line is an easy to use resource for securing fabric when building spaces within role play.
  • Mark making materials – these can be open-ended or themed (e.g. health questionnaire at the doctor’s surgery), depending on need.
  • Scenario cards – these can offer contexts or challenges based on children’s interests.
  • Prop boxes – these can contain more open-ended props or very specific and themed props, for example ‘cafe’, ‘magical castle’, ‘Doctors’. Make sure you think through the props and don’t over fill them. A few key props will be enough to start role playing and will provoke the development of language for negotiation, problem solving and conflict resolution, as well as prompt children to make their own props or use their imagination to ‘create’ props from more open-ended resources.
  • Provocation items – use provocation items such as a treasure chest, a photograph, or some clothes to encourage children to develop their role play.
  • Outside – outdoor dens and tents provide an excellent context for role play outside. Props should be more natural (sticks, shells etc). Remember to offer role play contexts that are familiar to children, for example, camping or picnicking.
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