Developing Quality Sociodramatic Play for Young Children

By Calabrese, Nicki McCullough | Education, Spring 2003 | Go to article overview

Developing Quality Sociodramatic Play for Young Children


Calabrese, Nicki McCullough, Education


   Picture it..... 1955.... Newburgh,
   N.Y....... two young cousins wander
   down to the bluffs of the Hudson
   River. Seeing the thick brush leading
   down to the river banks, they imagine
   they are in the wilderness. The
   young boy, Danny, dons his raccoon
   hat and transforms himself into the
   pioneer Daniel (Michael Polli)
   Boone. Plucking the near-by wildflowers,
   he creates a crown and
   proclaims his younger cousin to be
   Princess Summer Fall Winter Spring.
   Together they trudge through the
   brush seeking an adventure/On the
   way, the young Mr. Boone, battles
   lions, tigers and bears to keep himself
   and the princess safe from harm.
   They spend an afternoon delighting
   in the sights, smells, and sounds of
   their own perception of the Wild
   West. These two young cousins, for
   a few hours, escape the familiar and
   explore a new world, which allows
   them to be more capable, more
   brave, and more self-assured than
   they actually are. They practice a
   rich vocabulary which they do not
   usually have an opportunity to use.
   They develop personal beliefs about
   friendship, trust, and the joy of living.

Recently, my cousin Danny and I (yes, that was me!) spent an evening reminiscing about those adventures. Unlike paper and pencil academics, it is these types of experiences that stay with us forever. Obviously, we would not send our young students down to the riverbanks, but we can create make-believe adventures, using sociodramatic play experiences within our classrooms, that can help young children develop social, emotional, physical and cognitive skills.

What is Sociodramatic play?

Sociodramatic play is a form of voluntary social play in which children use their imaginations and creativity. They take on different roles, participate in conversations, use manipulatives, and engage in print rich environments. According to Smilansky & Shefatya (1990), sociodramatic play is characterized by the following components:

1. Children have time, space and evocative objects.

2. It is a co-operative enterprise.

3. It is characterized by personal freedom.

4. It develops according to a pre-defined theme.

5. It is an expressive world of make-believe yet is reality bound.

6. Players must be understood by other players in order to carry on continuity.

Why promote sociodramatic play?

Recent research is consistent in its support of play as a highly appropriate vehicle for the development of young children socially, emotionally, physically and cognitively (Bredekamp & Copple, 1997; Campbell & Foster, 1993; Nourot & VanHoorn, 1991; Odom, et al 1990; Pelligrini & Galda, 1990; Roskos & Neuman, 1993; Smilansky & Shefatya, 1990). Sociodramatic play, in particular, has been shown to be especially effective for promoting these skills (Elkind, 1993; Fromberg, 1997; Kennedy, 1991; Levy, Wolfgang, & Koorland, 1992; Pellegrini & Galda, 1990; Shefatya & Smilansky, 1990; Taharally, 1991).

Since play, which is child-centered, is a preferred activity for most children, motivation tends to be higher than with more academic teacher-directed activities. This increase in motivation, along with research that supports sociodramatic play as having a high correlation with social, emotional, physical and cognitive development, creates a strong argument for its inclusion in the curriculum of early childhood programs.

How can we create quality sociodramatic play?

The process of designing appropriate sociodramatic play in classrooms for young children requires a combination of student-centered and teacher-directed strategies. It usually begins with defining a specific physical space in the classroom that can be used to create a sociodramatic center. Introduce this center to children in small groups to ensure that they are aware of the possibilities for future play. …

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