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Refreshing Pretend Play in your Program with Dramatic Play Center Themes

Dramatic play centers are often a favorite space in ECE classrooms. Children love opportunities to dress up and imagine what life is like as someone other than themselves. Pretend play also gives children an opportunity to learn and practice a variety of skills that support brain development and that set them up for success in elementary school. 

In this article, we explore a few fun themes you might want to try in the dramatic play centers in your classroom.  

Benefits of Dramatic Play

When children engage in dramatic play, they are actively building social and emotional skills, using language and imagination, and trying out reasoning skills.  

As children imagine themselves and their peers as the characters they are playing, they think about the perspectives of the characters and use reasoning skills to anticipate how people in those roles might think and act. Dramatic play also involves peer collaboration and problem-solving, supporting skills in communication, listening, and language development.  

To learn more about the benefits of dramatic play, you might enjoy this Good2Know Network article from the archives, Why is Dramatic Play Important in Early Learning?  

Unique Dramatic Play Center Ideas

Post Office

Children are always interested in learning about community helpers and the people who work in their neighborhoods. A pretend post office introduces children to the many steps that take place in order for mail to be delivered. Early math skills can be incorporated for older children by having them weigh their packages on a scale before mailing. Early literacy skills and fine motor skills get some practice as the children write letters and place them in envelopes.

This center can easily be set up using recycled materials such as old envelopes and empty boxes. Other items you might have on hand can also be incorporated, such as stickers for postage stamps, old bags for mail carrier bags, and empty containers for mailboxes. 

Click here to visit the Picklebums website, where you can find more ideas and get a free printable post office sign set to easily label each part of the dramatic play center in your classroom.

Ice Cream Shop

An ice cream shop is the perfect dramatic play theme for the warm summer months! Set up a shop with different flavor options and encourage children to scoop pretend ice cream into cones! This center offers lots of opportunities for young children to practice early math skills, as they count the number of scoops and use pretend money to pay for their treats. Children also get to practice social-emotional skills as they make and receive orders. Fine motor skills come into play when children scoop pretend ice cream. 

This dramatic play center can be set up using items that you might already have on-hand. Colored pom-poms are great to use for scoops of ice cream as different colors can represent different flavors of ice cream. Other materials to use for pretend ice cream could include playdough, colored pieces of paper (crumpled into balls to look like scooped ice cream), or colored cotton balls. Add to the items in your ice cream shop by including popsicles, made out of sponges! Click here to find more fun ideas for setting up your ice cream shop dramatic play center.


When the weather gets too hot to spend long periods of time outdoors, pretend play camping is a fun way to bring the outdoors into your classroom! Pretend camping offers an opportunity for children to learn about the plants and animals living in their local community. Talk about what kinds of birds children might see if they went out for a hike and what kinds of wildflowers they would find. Children can also make pretend smores with cardboard graham crackers and cotton ball marshmallows. 

With pretend camping, you can introduce another important community helper – park rangers! Children can dress up as rangers and think about how they might help to take care of nature in local state parks. You might enjoy trying this easy-to-make ranger vest made out of a paper bag so children can dress up. Click here to find more ideas and some free printables for making a dramatic play camping space.

Construction Site

Big construction trucks and construction sites are always a source of fascination for young children. In this dramatic play theme, children can pretend that they are the ones working on the construction project! Children can use early math skills to draw blueprints and measure the height of different structures. Children will also practice teamwork, collaboration, and communication skills as they work together to build structures.

A pretend play construction site can be equipped with a variety of materials, such as pretend play hard hats, empty boxes and large building blocks, legos and small blocks for building smaller structures, traffic cones, and other materials that children can use as building materials. Click here to find more ideas for setting up this dramatic play center. 

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