Having a toddler in the family can sure take a lot of
energy and focus. Dramatic play is a great way to bond as a family with some open-ended play. Check out these ideas to get things going, including a FULL YEAR of weekly dramatic play theme ideas. Imagination Station
A great way to get started is to make an Imagination Station: a central starting place for all dramatic play. Instead of buying something, we decided to make ours following Lemonade Stand ideas.
Materials: 4 crate boxes, split 2×4, cross beam board, hardware and tools (we chose to drill holes and use bolts with tee nuts so that we could disassemble as needed).
What is dramatic play? A type of play where roles are acted out.
How do you do dramatic play?
Choose your starting point. As you saw above, we created an Imagination Station to be our starting point. Choose a theme. We choose a new theme each week (see below for a year’s worth of ideas!) Prepare your materials. There is no need to go out and spend hundreds of dollars on pretend play toys. Between paper and stuff around the house, you are good to go. For example, for the ice cream shop, you can make cones out of brown paper, some crumpled up pieces for scoops of ice cream and you likely have an ice cream scoop or spoon around the house. Play Together. Enjoy engaging in your family’s imagination. Play open-ended or even use it to teach moral lessons such as honesty and kindness. 52 Dramatic Play Themes
Having a new theme each week keeps things interesting. Here is a list of ideas to keep you going for a whole year. See below for some FREE Dramatic Play PRINTABLES. We’re doing this too, so check back often to see more ideas (updated February 20, 2020).
Week 1: Fresh Lemonade Stand. We used a pitcher and cups that we already had. We worked together to make the sign. Our “lemons” were crumbled up yellow paper. We used real quarters for “paying.” And our “lenmonade: was strips of scrap yellow paper. Easy-Peasy-Lemon-Squeezy! Week 2: Photography Studio. We used a cardboard box, scraps of construction paper, a toilet paper roll and a blender ball to put together a pretend camera. We worked together to make the studio sign and then gathered frames and un-scrapbooked photos for the rest of the props. Picture perfect 🙂 Week 3: Pizzeria. The pizza was generously gifted to us by grandma (thanks grandma!), but paper and cardboard would work fine as well. Find the menu and signs in our FREE printable section below. Get it while it’s hot! Week 4: Clothing Store. We made some printable price tags, labels and signs (FREE below), and then used clothing from the clean yet-put-away laundry. This one is a great way to teach toddlers how to fold clothing 🙂 Chores for the win! Week 5: Pet Groomer. We printed off our Free Printable Pet Groomer signs (available below), and then gathered some stuffed animals, combs and rags. Then we used scrap paper to cut up some “doggie bone treats.” Free treats for good pets! Week 6: Train Station. We worked together to use the random shipping boxes we had to create a “real” train to sit in. We printed the signs and tickets (free below) and got out the train set we already had. All aboard! Week 7: Post Office. We gathered some scrap papers and envelopes and cut out our free printable signs and stamps (See below). This is also one of the few stations we bought a toy for, because we intend to use that mailbox to leave uplifting notes for each other later on. You’ve got mail! Week 8: Vet Clinic. We used our printable vet clinic signs (free below), our doctor tool kit and stuffies we already had. Come on Rover! Week 9: Flower Shop. We used a white board we already had, as well as left over flowers from crafts to decorate. For that special occasion! Week 10: Space Station. We made a spaceship out of a cardboard box, brought up our space-looking yoga ball and blanket, printed off our printable signs (for free below) and got out our hand-me-down keyboard for home base. 3..2..1.. Blast off! Week 11: Camp Site. We happened to already have a teepee, but that sheet would work just as well for putting together a tent. We also got out some of our real camping supplies like flashlights and sleeping bags. The cute fire pit could also be made out of real logs and/or paper. And finally, we printed out our free printable signs and checklist (below). Beware of Bears! Week 12: Library. This one was super easy. We printed off the signs & library cards (Free below), then gathered books around the house. Check it out! Week 13: Dentist. We happened to have a box from a toothbrush ready to go. We also printed our sign and form (see below). We had applicable wooden toys, but real toothbrushes and dolls would do the trick just fine as well. Say aaaaaawh! Week 14: Bug Lab. We printed off our printable page (see below) and hid little bugs around the room. We happened to have a magnifying glass and a bug puzzle too, but real bugs would work great too! It’s a bug’s life. Week 15: Pirate Ship. We happened to have some decorative ships on that made a pit stop at our house on their way to a second hand store. We also printed out our flag and map and hid the “x” elsewhere in the room. X-marks the spot! Week 16: Puppet Theatre. We grabbed a sheet, colored a “backdrop” and gathered our puppets. Let the show begin! Week 17: Safari. We gathered our animal toys and a Safari book we happened to have. We printed our printable animals and hid them around the room for a fun scavenger hunt. No more Lion around. Week 18: Fire Station. We happened to have hats from our local fire station field trip along we some hand-me-down toys making a temporary pitstop here. We hid our printable “fire” around the room to put out. Fire! Week 19: Birthday Party. We worked together to make a happy birthday sign, then gathered our second hand birthday supplies. Party on! Week 20: Bakery. We printed off the printable cards and used our pre owned bakery toys. So sweet! Week 21: Baby Nursery. With a combo of dolls, real baby supplies and a printable, our nursery was ready to go. 🙂 Week 22: Junkyard. This one couldn’t have been easier – gather the junk and work together to build something new. One family’s junk. Week 23: Police Station. We printed off our printable pages (yeah, we know there’s a typo… is that a crime? see if you can find it 🙂 We hid the “suspect” in the room behind a trail of finger prints. Who done it? Week 24: Ice Cream Shop. As you can see, we let the toddler help cut out the free printable. Then we crumbled up scrap paper “IceCream scoops” and grabbed a bowl. What’s your favorite flavor? Week 25: School Classroom. We printed off the pages (2 options below) and gathered our books, backpacks and educational puzzles. As easy as ABC 123! Week 26: Bank. We printed off the printables, gathered our calculators and “money” and got to work. Ka-Ching! Week 27: Hospital or Doctor’s Office. We printed out the signs (found below) and gathered the various doctor toys we already had (paper or “real” tools like a thermometer would have done just fine otherwise). Time for your check up! Week 28: Aiport. We printed and cut out the signs, collected our airplane toys, folded some paper airplanes, grabbed a suitcase, built a cardboard plane and we were off to the gate. Arrival or Departures? Week 29: Dino Dig. We hung up our signs, gathered some dino toys, filled up some pans with crushed breakfast cereal and used some paint brushes to uncover the dinos. We also hid shadows of the dinosaurs around the room for a fun matching game. Dig, Dig Dig! Week 30: The North Pole. We put up the signs, cut out some “snow” and gathered various holiday hand-me-downs. Happy Holidays! Week 31: Hair Salon. We made hair salon clients out of cardboard and ribbon and then gathered our bows, kid scissors and brushes. What style do you want? Week 32: Movie theatre. We gathered some treats and dress ups for a good show. Grab the popcorn! Week 33: Beach. We printed out the signs, gathered our summer fun stuff and played in the “sand”. We also built some epic cardboard “sand castles” (not pictured). Fun in the Sun! (even in winter) Week 34: Restaurant. We printed off the sign & menu, gathered our pretend food and various supplies like a table cloth for our cardboard box table. Order up! Week 35: Construction site. Wood blocks, real (safe) tools and our printable signs were all we needed to get to work. See you later excavator! Week 36: Optomologist (Eye Doctor). We printed the signs, made cardboard glasses, gathered the real eye wear of the household and built some machinery out of cardboard. Better 1… or 2….? Week 37: Zoo. We printed our signs & map, reused many of our safari supplies and used strings to create animal “cages.” Which way to the elephants? Week 38: Laboratory. We printed our signs and science stuff, gathered our coat and tools & started some real experiments. Goggles on! Week 39: Kitchen. Our sweet neighbors gave us a hand-me-down play fridge so we put it to work with our various kitchen gadget and food. The same thing could be done with real food, real kitchen supplies, and the crates as a fridge. Who’s hungry? Week 40: Circus. We added some ribbons to our hula hoop as “fire”, reused some balloon decor, got out some face paint and started some circus music. It was the greatest show! Week 41: Quilt/Fabric Store. It was about time for us to go through our blankets and fabric and donate our excess. So we gathered them all up, played fabric store (which was mostly fort building store) and then sorted for donation. Quilt a memoir! 😉 Week 42: Art Studio. We gathered our no-mess art supplies and got creative. Every child is an artist! Week 43: Toy Store. We gathered our toys (and made a few) and worked at the wonder emporium. It was a great way to go through toys to organize and donate some as well. Shhh if we told it it was a toy store, we’d have a mad house on our hands. Week 44: Magic Show. Admittedly we got some toys for this one, but you can find numerous DIY and easy Magic Tricks on Pinterest and elsewhere. Family time is magic! Week 45: Music Store. We simply gathered all of our instruments (and borrowed some), made our sign and got playing. Rock on! Week 46: Car Mechanic. We gathered or borrowed various vehicles, constructed a shop & a car wash with cardboard and scarfs and got to work. Welcome to the car wash. Open Concept. We leave the Imagination Station out even when we’re not working on a “theme.” It’s fun to see what the kiddos come up with when it’s a blank canvas.
Airport Aquarium Art Studio Baby Nursery Bakery Bank Beach Birthday Party Bug Lab Camping Car Mechanic Circus Classroom Clothing Store Construction Dentist Dinosaur Dig Farm/ Garden Fire Station Flower Shop Grocery Store Hair Salon Hospital IceCream Shop Junkyard Laboratory Kitchen Lemonade Stand Library Magic Show Movie Theatre Music Store News Station North Pole Optometrist Pet Groomer Photography Studio Pizzeria Pirate Ship Police Station Post Office Puppet Show Quilt/Fabric Store Restaurant Safari Space Station Soda Shop Train Station Toy Store Veterinarian Work Office Zoo Free Printables
What We Learned from 52+ Dramatic Playtimes
You really don’t need that many toys. (Cardboard boxes, borrowed items, some open-ended toys like scarves and a few special items are what really made it work). Get the kids involved in the prep work! (At first, you’ll notice we spent time making signs on the computer and framing them on colored backgrounds to get everything set up. It was SO much more fun and WAY less stress to just let the kiddos help make the signs on whatever paper or cardboard we happened to have around.) Music is a fun addition. (It’s amazing how many correlating music themes you can find – such as Italian music for the pizzeria or some Greatest Showman soundtrack for the Circus). Be Silly! (No need to be self-conscious about the exaggerated accents or non-releastic “working” conditions. Let your guard down, and for the dedicated Imagination Station time, be a kid with your kid). There are sooo many teachable moments when playing pretend. (While “just” fun is fantastic too, the Imagination Station made for some non confrontational options for addressing situations such as sharing, serving and responsibility).
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