Rediscovering Make-Believe play.

Teachers:Cecilia Hawkins. Alejandra di Tada.

Topic Make Believe Play (Juego Dramatico)

Venue:  Kindergarten, Punta Chica

Age group K 5

Why Make Believe play?

Make-believe play as defined by Elkonin in Diseño Curricular para la Educacion Inicial 2008 is a dramatization of the reality where the children have the opportunity to perform roles which will  they not be able to  perform otherwise. They can pretend to be doctors, firemen or veterinarians thus discovering and learning about the adult world in fantasy land created by them in their own social context.

As teachers of 5 year old children we have been immersed, without realizing, in a race of rising academic standards and we have slowly forgotten the importance of make believe play at this early stage. Not because we were not instructed during our training as teachers, but because the academic standards have become increasingly important and our aim has shifted towards helping the children achieve the readiness for 1st grade in a more formal and academic way.  Play has changed a lot lately and our young students might spend more time playing alone with video games or tablets than playing with peers or siblings.  This scenario has transferred the importance of play to our classrooms, as it could be the only place where children can have the opportunity to enrich themselves by participating in make believe play with their peers and adults (their teachers) as mentors.

Research has shown over the past decades that pretend play is of vital importance for developing children’s social skills, emerging mathematical ability, mastery of early literacy concepts and self-regulation (Leong and Bodrova, Young children, January 2012). In our experience, language is expanded and enriched during play as the children may face situations which they do not face other way, making them use specific language to solve out conflicts or to dramatize a specific situation during pretend play. Moreover, if we consider that make- believe play “permits the child to work off past emotions and to find imaginary relief for past frustrations and that, while playing, children are able to let off repressed tensions and to release physical energy” (Ericson 1950, in Santrock and Yussen, pag. 418); we are definitely helping our students in their emotional development and at the same time, by observing our children at play, we get to know and understand them better.

Furthermore, as one of our main objectives is the challenging task of teaching our young children to speak in English, we have found the way of taking advantage of dramatic play and use it as a motivation to acquire the English language. Their enthusiasm in the theme proposed to play, is transferred to a language activity to teach them new vocabulary and structures in English.  We can say that we have been successful  in helping  our students  acquire the English  language, if after playing “The Doctor” at the beginning of the year,  children could be heard saying : “I have a tummy ache” at the end of the year.

In this regard we cannot deny the importance of play in the early ages and, after an in-service training about pretend play conducted by our Head Teacher, we decided to rediscover this activity.

Scaffolding make believe play. “Going shopping”

In order to promote and motivate mature play we showed them two short videos of people and children going shopping in different contexts. We also visited our School shop where they were asked to focus their attention on the people to be able to reenact these roles.


We followed the six critical elements proposed by Bodrova and Leong (2007) in order to asses and scaffold play: plan, roles, props, extended time frame, language and scenario. The elements will be listed together with the activities performed by the children.

  • Plan.

We discussed with the children who they were going to be and do what they were going to do and the scenario where the action was going to take place. We also talked about the different things they needed in order to play “Going Shopping”. The children had to think, propose, predict and decide before playing all the possible situations and needs. By doing so, many conflicts could be solved in advance.  For example, five children who wanted to be “the sellers” agreed to take turns instead of fighting over the prop (cash register) right before starting to play.  This planning gave them the opportunity to put into practice problem solving strategies to prevent possible conflicts while playing. They all agreed to take turns and they decided to have three sellers at a time. One who sold clothes, one who sold jewelry and the last one who sold shoes. The planning was also done on paper, where the children made drawings to reproduce their ideas and to play.






Planning also happened while playing: as the children started buying clothes, jewelry and shoes they discovered that the money that was assigned to each buyer had vanished very quickly, like in real life! So they came to us to explain their problem.  After discussing the situation, they decided they needed a bank where they could go to cash out money and to ask for a credit card. So they did, but to their surprise the bank also run out of money!  Another real problem to solve…! We suggested they needed to work, as mummies and daddies do. Some of them wanted to work: the ones that had run out of money, of course, and their new job was to make money! They worked at “La Casa de la Moneda” making pesos!


There was also another change in the plans that happened when they realized while playing they needed tools to write. After discussing the situation, they all agreed to add another shop to sell stationery items. These changes in the plans of the play while playing, supported by us as mentors and accepted enthusiastically by them, showed, according to Leong and Bodrova (2012), a high level of play as they were able to discuss the new scenarios and incorporate new ideas as well as creating new props:  money, credit cards and the jewels to sell.

  • Roles

The children suggested  the following roles: sellers, clients, policemen” in case of a robbery”, cashiers, people to wrap presents and people to give out brochures to attract customers  to the shops. While playing, they realized they needed them because some of the shops did not have clients! This is where us, teachers, intervened to explain them what these roles are about. One of the boys wanted to be a dog, so we had to tell him that dogs are not allowed inside shops and that they have to be carried by someone and be left outside. Another boy wanted to be a thief so they all agreed that they also needed a policeman! This is where us, teachers, intervened to explain them what these roles are about.  Some of the roles had to be taught to children as they were new for them.  The social roles and the relationships between the roles chosen by the children during make believe play is its most important feature.  All this discussion with the children was very rich and helped them learn about the relationship between the different roles and about the real world through make-believe play. To play like this they need rules that are not willful, but come from real life situations, for example that dogs are not allowed inside shops. And this was our most important role, to help them learn about these rules for them to be able to play independently.

  • Props

They suggested different things: money, cashier machines, things to sell, wallets, fitting rooms, price tags, bags, shelves, rings and posnets. All the props were written on a list which the children dictated to us.image

Some of the props were prepared by the children in order not to reinforce play as toy orientated. Children use very realistic playthings produced today what excludes the possibility of using their imagination. Another advantage of using nonrealistic props is that children must use more descriptive language to communicate with their peers while playing.  In this case, children made wallets, shoes, fitting rooms, price tags and cashier machines. The ideal situation would be to be able to gradually introduce unconventional props to replace the realistic ones, to give them the opportunity to use props in a symbolic way typical of high levels of make believe play.

  • Extended time frame.

The play lasted approximately 3 weeks, with three sessions per week. Each session lasted between 30 to 40 minutes.

  • Language

The language the children used to pretend the different situations while shopping was monitored by us to make sure it was related to the situation. We also had to teach them words such as “posnet” when using the credit cards or “cashier” when paying for what they had bought. We also had to help them with the sentence structure and intonation, for example the way a seller addresses a client when going inside the shop. To do this, we interacted in the play by acting out some of the roles thus modeling the use of the language.

The language element was introduced in Spanish and after being learnt by the children it was slowly transferred to English, hence being a hidden objective of the make believe play. This was done provided it did not interfere with the development of the make believe play itself.

          Play Scenario  is the theme of play or the story children dramatize, which help them learn and understand social relationships and life situations. Our theme was “Going shopping”, and the children were faced with new situations such as “what happens when a dog or thief goes inside a shop? “Or “what happens if you run out of money?”  In this regard we had to act as mentors and helped them organize their play scenarios and explained how these situations are solved in real life.  Even for the most familiar settings children need help to build the background knowledge. When the play scenario is based on animals, for example, it is very difficult for the children to dramatize the theme. Last year a group of 5 year olds decided to play “Nemo” and they were not able to play for extended periods of time as the theme lacked a social context. Unless the theme is presented with a social aspect for the children to be able to act it out, it is not going to produce and motivate mature make believe play.

Added value of Make Believe Play

Using the enthusiasm of the children as a motivation we planned and performed the following activities with academic objectives.

  • Language activities
  1. Fishing clothes. Objective:  practise the use of the simple past.

The children, divided in small groups, had to “fish” an item of clothing. Before fishing, they had to ask: “what did you buy? “They all took turns to fish using a rod and a magnet. Once they had caught an item, they had to say” I bought a…. (Pair of trousers)” according to the item caught with the rod.

  1. Clothes Bingo. Objective:  practise clothes the vocabulary.
  2. Musical clothes. Objective: to have fun with clothes!

This game is similar to Musical chairs. They all sat on chairs in a circle. While the music was playing, they had to pass a bag full of clothes. When the music stopped, they child who had the bag had to put on one of the items in the bag. The bag went all around until it was empty. At the end of the game, they had to describe what they were wearing.

3. Pijama day. Objective: to have fun!

We had a “pyjama day”. All the children, included the teachers, took their pyjamas to school. We played “Whose is this pyjama?”, to practise the possessive:  “whose is this pyjama?”.“It is mine” and “it is Juana’s”. Then we all pretended to sleep!

4.  Heads together. Cooperative game.Objective:  foster cooperative work and to practise clothes vocabulary.

We asked them different questions about clothes, such as: “what do you wear when you go to sleep?” Each group hat to put their heads together to answer the question. When they all agreed on the answer they had to put their hands up to answer it.  Other questions asked: what do you wear on your feet/ on your head/ when you are cold/ in winter? The children had flashcards of  clothes which they had to show to answer the questions as well as calling out the name of the item.

5.  Listening comprehension. Objective:  identify the colours of the clothes and the people wearing them.

  • Maths activities
  1. Credit card statement. Objective: perform simple additions.

The children hat to add different amounts that represented what they had bought with their credit cards.


2. Filling in an Invoice. Objective: writing numbers

The children had to fill in an invoice.


3. Counting money. Objective: Counting

We gave then 3 notes and they had to add to see how much money they had.


  • Literacy activities
  1. Making credit cards. Objective: writing

After looking at different credit cards, the children had to make their own credit cards to use them to playing.

2. Price tags.

After discovering they needed to have a fixed price for  the clothes( some of them realized that they had used different prices for the same item) they prepared price tags to stick on the clothes.

Evaluation of the play

We were very satisfied with the results of this make believe play. The children played peacefully and very cooperatively with no conflicts between them.  While the children were playing we had more opportunities to have meaningful on to one interactions with them either by playing with them or by mentoring their play. The time frame was appropriate; the children were able to play for long periods of time sticking to the roles chosen except for some who needed some guidance. The planning of the play by means of the drawing was effective tough some children needed more help than others to get inspired.The used the props they made and they also used realistic props which we should gradually help them replace by more symbolic ones in order to promote more imaginative play and to stimulate creativity, something that we think is slowly being lost as a consequence of all the electronic devices used by them.

The scenario chosen, though familiar to them, gave them opportunities for learning about new roles and relationships such the relationship between clients and seller and the importance of being kind to the clients. During one play session one of the boys got upset because while shopping, the seller was very angry because he did not want to accept the credit card as way of the payment. We had to explain him that he had to be polite when talking to a client by talking nicely without getting angry.  They also learnt about the use of money. They learnt that money is not endless and that it is necessary to work in order to earn it and that credit cards are not magic, that they have to be paid at the end of each month! The roles chosen by the children were not very varied and we think we need to work more during the first part of the process   to help them move from the traditional settings such as “the house” or “the doctor” on order to expand their imagination and creativity. Nevertheless we need to admit that the theme “going shopping” came very handy to help us teach all the vocabulary in English. The enthusiasm and motivation on the theme helped achieve academic objectives in different areas such as Language, Maths and Literacy in a very significant way, what shows that make-believe play does not renege on academic learning but empowers it as it can be dealt as an a project just as any other project done with the children.


We are convinced that make believe play is as important as any of the other areas taught at this level and that by playing children grow emotionally and academically. We will keep working to enhance and encourage make believe play as it is an activity that belongs to the kindergarten realm.

Here you have a link with pictures of the children working and playing. We hope you enjoy it as much as we enjoyed playing with them!


  • Deborah J, Leong and Elena Bodrova, Assesing and Scaffolding Make Believe Play, Young Children 2012, Naeyc.
  • Deborah J, Leong and Elena Bodrova, Chopstixks and Counting Chips, Beyond the Journal, Young children on the web, May 2002.
  • Dirección General de Cultura y Educación, Provincia de Buenos Aires,  Diseño Curricular para la Educación Inicial, 2008
  • Santrock and Yussem, Child development and Introduction. Third Edition, 1987 W.M. C. Broun Publishers, Dubuque, Iowa.


  • Dennis Child. Psycology and the teacher, 1993, Cassell Educational Eld.
  • Dirección General de Cultura y Educación, Provincia de Buenos Aires,  Diseño Curricular para la Educación Inicial, 2008.

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