The dramatic play area is the center of our classroom community. So much fun, hands-on learning takes place there! We love to set it up with simple themes, like a restaurant, and elaborate themes, like this cookie shop bakery. But, at its basic level, the dramatic play area is a kitchen where preschoolers engage in home living pretend play.
Our kitchen area takes up a large portion of the classroom. We have a 4-piece wooden kitchen set, a little table with chairs, and a dress-up closet. No matter the size of your kitchen play area, you can make the most of it by including awesome, realistic props and organizing it in a way that the children can play all day!
At the beginning of the school year, when we are introducing the classroom and centers (and basically hanging out in survival mode!) we teach our preschoolers how to use each area of the kitchen. To start, most of the cabinets are tied shut. There are just too many things in those cabinets for the students to use at first.
On the first day, we set the table with hamburgers and hot dogs, cups and plates. That was plenty to keep them happily engaged in play. Each day, we open a new space and discover the things that are inside.
On the day that we open the refrigerator, I take 1 or 2 of the baskets to circle time first thing in the morning. I introduce the toys and we talk about what they have in common. Then we go together as a group to the kitchen to see if we can figure out, together, where those baskets came from. This is the key for us! We label the basket with its contents, and we also label the shelf where the basket belongs. We take it very slowly at first, but by October our students are (mostly) pros at finding what they want to play with in the classroom and putting it away when they are done.
Some people might think that we overdo it with the organization, but I truly believe that making the classroom routine, as well as the classroom environment, organized and predictable lends to a calm and secure feeling among our students. Things do not always get put away perfectly, but for the most part our students are able to exert ownership over the area because they know where everything belongs!
Our favorite toys are Green Toys brand, Hape, and Melissa & Doug. We love the quality and the fact that they are made of wood.
Here’s a picture of some of the wooden food accessories that we love. The lids come off of each one for an extra matching opportunity.
We add many fantastic kitchen props, as well as realistic elements like 2 “real” phones so that the students can call each other. If you don’t already have a collection of these phones, ask your families if they have any old ones to send in. Many people do and will be happy to donate them to the classroom.
Another element that helps our students play meaningfully in the kitchen dramatic play center is this set of role play name tags. We don’t always put them out, but find that when we do, the children try different roles and they play together in different ways.
The final area of our kitchen dramatic play center is the dress-up closet. We organize it just like the kitchen refrigerator and cabinets, with labels on the baskets and matching labels on the shelves.
Basic dress-up props include ties, baby gear, money, jewelry, hand bags and shoes. We also add hats, suits, dresses and costumes on a rotating basis throughout the year. The thrift shop is a great source for cheap, sometimes gaudy, dress-up clothes. At our school, the sparklier the item, the more popular it will be! It’s important to change the items in the center to keep it fresh.
Even if you have a much smaller kitchen area in your classroom, or even in your play room, I hope that you can use these tips and inspiration to create a smart, organized area for your children to pretend and role play.
All of the labels, name tags and printable signs that I use in our dramatic play kitchen are available for FREE! Just sign up for my free newsletter and I will send them to you. Enjoy!
For more fabulous dramatic play ideas, be sure to check out this list of A-Z Pretend Play ideas at Crafty Kids at Home.
Also, for your convenience, here are the affiliate links to the products that we use and love in our kitchen dramatic play center every day: