Pre-School Role Play, How to Do It, And Why

Building learning into everyday play isn’t as difficult as it sounds, writes Dana Bader, Author of Rainbow Readiness. With a little bit of knowledge and creativity, you can be sure that your little one is constantly learning...
Pre-School Role Play, How to Do It, And Why
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As parents, we’re always trying to think of ways to make play meaningful for our children, particularly as they make their way through the critical early years. But building learning into everyday play isn’t as difficult as it sounds. With a little bit of knowledge and creativity, you can be sure that your little one is constantly learning.

Take, for example, working on building your pre-schooler’s social skills. The opportunities for this are endless, and you’ll be building what educators refer to as ‘personal, social, and emotional development’. Little ones are also always ready to work on early literacy skills. Believe it or not, that colourful scribble all over your favourite book, the wall, or those important documents, is early mark-making; a positive step towards literacy.

So how can we build these skills into an everyday activity?

Take the example of role-playing. Role-playing can spark the imagination and transport your little ones into a world of make-believe. Role-play also develops personal, social, and emotional skills, as it’s the perfect chance for little ones to express themselves.

Let’s look at a simple restaurant role-play. Print off and read out the instructions below to your child, and watch the creativity unfold. Don’t be tempted to lead the activity – let it go where your little one wants it to go.

What you’ll need:

  • Pens, notepads and aprons for your waiters and waitresses
  • Paper plates and plastic cups
  • Plastic spoons, knives and forks
  • Pretty table decorations

1: You’ve just opened a new restaurant and everybody wants to come and eat your delicious food! What would you like your restaurant to sell? Pizza? Pasta? Chicken? Cake and ice-cream? The first thing you need to do is find a place for your customers to eat. Set up a table with a pretty table decoration like flowers or one of your beautiful crafts. Lay out the plates and knives and forks.

2: Decide what is on the menu. Stick pictures of food onto a piece of card and write the price next to them. Now you’re ready for your first customer! Give them a menu to look at and write down their order. Would they like some water? How many cups do they need? Don’t forget to say please and thank you!

3: When you’re baking or cooking with mum or dad, take a picture to stick on your menu. You can change the menu every day so your next customers get a nice surprise!

Why is this activity useful?

Role-playing is the perfect way to build confidence and a sense of self. Your little one also has to write down your order, and decide on a price for each item on the menu. Although you might just see scribble, this ‘writing’ makes perfect sense to your child. So through a simple activity such as this, you’re working on personal, social, and emotional development, as well as literacy and language skills, maths and much, much more.

How does this activity build literacy skills?

A simple restaurant role-play becomes the perfect opportunity for children to learn that marks on paper (even if they are scribbled) contain the meaning of what their customer wants to eat and drink.

Children should always have access to tools for writing practice (or scribbling practice, depending on their age!). Supplying your child with coloured paper, pencils, crayons, coloured markers, paintbrushes and paints allows them to explore creating their own print. Although the scribbles and marks children create may have no meaning to adults, you can be sure that they make perfect sense to the one who made them- with symbols and letters constructed to form complete meaning to the child.

And what about personal, social, and emotional development?

When they enter the world of role-play, children get to see the world from a different point of view. It also allows children to express their own emotions and discover a sense of self. The ability of a child to express emotions appropriately, interpret the emotional state of others, and regulate their own emotions, all add up to emotional competence. The preschool child becomes more able to recognise and talk about his or her own and others’ emotions and feelings.

Emotional competence at age 3 to 4 is an indicator of social competence at school age. A child who is socially competent will begin to build successful interpersonal relationships (with classmates and teachers, for example), work cooperatively with others, and cope with conflict.

This restaurant role-play activity also helps several other areas of development. For example, as children welcome their customers and take orders, they are building language skills. They’re also getting creative and gaining an understanding of the world as they imagine themselves in a make-believe world. When you ask for ‘more water, please’ or ‘two tomato soups’, you’re also building mathematical concepts. All that, just from a simple role-play! So, this summer, don’t be afraid to put on your creative hat and enter a fantasy world with your kids. You’ll soon see that what looks like simple play is actually building a whole host of important skills.

This article was written by Dana Bader, Author of Rainbow Readiness – The Complete Guide to Getting Your Little Ones Ready For School. More information can be found at

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