“Children behave beyond their age in dramatic and socio-dramatic play – and one can actually watch the child of tomorrow” (Bodrova, E 2008, p. 360)
In make-believe or socio-dramatic play children take on roles and stretch themselves to carry out the work of, for example, a bus-driver, pilot or fire-fighter or the imaginary role of a dragon-catcher. Likewise when children are exploring they often take on roles, usually alongside others who are also in role.
While the ownership of the play and exploration resides with the children, educators have a part to play. We can co-create a conducive environment, provide resources and facilitate the children making their own. We enable choices and time which encourages children to exercise their agency. By listening to the children’s lines of thought and interactions we can assist a child who wants to join in by helping them create a role.
In socio-dramatic play we may also take on the role of the playwright or encourage a ‘Master Player’ to do this if the dramatic tension is waning and the players are about to disperse. We all do this thoughtfully and sensitively, without interference in the children’s ideas and directions for their play.
Even though socio-dramatic play has been described as a ‘joyous, cooperative working atmosphere’ by Sarah Smilansky and Leah Shefatya, sometimes it is not! According to Elena Bodrova and Deborah Leong, ‘Early childhood educators are struggling with growing numbers of children who need specific support to develop self-regulation’.
Research* has shown that make-believe play has the capacity to develop the highest levels of self-regulation in children. This is because of the requirements inherent in a chosen role and the conflicts that naturally arise in their interactions, both in and out of role.
When children are ‘in-role’, educators can thoughtfully co-play and help to resolve conflicts through co-regulation. When children are ‘out-of-role’ there are a range of ways that educators can work together with them to guide their self-regulation, including restorative justice practices. These practices are about creating trusting relationships, using fair processes and involving children actively in repairing problems when conflict arises.
Because the development of self-regulation is the underlying foundation that makes all learning possible, there is an ever-increasing need for us as educators to co-construct socio-emotional understanding with children to assist them in learning to consistently regulate their own emotions and actions. Furthermore, children’s exploration - including physical experiences - helps them to regulate their bodies.
Smilansky, S & Shefatya, L (1990. p. 16) Facilitating Play: A Medium for Promoting Cognitive, Socio-Emotional and Academic Achievement in Young Children, Psychological and Educational Publications, Gaithersburg, Maryland
*Bodrova & Leong (2009 p. 218) Self-regulation as the key to school readiness: How Early childhood teachers can promote this critical competency in Fahey, J (2012, p. 97) Ways to Learn Through Inquiry: Guiding Children to Deeper Understanding, International Baccalaureate, Cardiff, Wales
*Bodrova, E (2008, p. 360), Make-Believe Play Versus Academic Skills: A Vygotskian Approach to Today’s Dilemma of Early Childhood Education, European Early Childhood Education Research Journal, Vol. 13, number 3