Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Pretend Play & Building Schema

Pretend play is very common in the preschool classroom, but pretending should not stop at the end of preschool. Teachers can use academic areas as well as information from families to create meaningful pretend play experiences for children of all ages.

Pretend play helps children expand their schema - thei
r knowledge based on life experiences. This is very important in preschool and elementary school, so teachers and parents should provide opportunities for pretend play based on a variety of themes that will help children learn about their world. It is especially helpful to create centers relating to places children have been, such as the dentist's office, the zoo, or a theater performance. In order for teachers to provide pretend play centers based on these experiences, families need to share what their children have done, or where their family has gone before. Some suggestions for pretend play center themes include:

- art gallery - bakery - construction site - hospital/doctor's office - grocery store -

- humane society/veterinarian's office - kitchen - mechanic/body shop -

- office - post office - school office - restaurant - science laboratory -

- space station - theatre for performing arts - video/music store -

- weather station - wildlife sanctuary

Teachers and families can incorporate literacy into these pretend play themes by providing: plenty of paper and writing utensils, and materials that fit with the theme (such as tools for a mechanic's shop or cookie sheets for a bakery). Pretend play does not only address literacy, though. All of these pretend play centers can be related to many academic content areas: mathematics, social studies, science, language arts, and visual arts. These centers can be used to talk to children about jobs, different roles people play in a variety of settings, and what types of materials are used in different jobs. It would be great to take a field trip to an actual place represented in the pretend play center to give children an idea of what the real location is like.

Bonus: Teachers can also use pretend play to talk about critical issues such as gender roles. Children may insist on boys and girls playing stereotypical roles, such as boys playing doctors and girls playing nurses. Pretend play can help children break away from these ideas. Teachers can use these situations to help children reflect on roles for men and women and to show them that boys and girls can both play many non-stereotypical roles.


  1. Providing new and exciting ways for children to experience pretend play is a great way to incorporate new vocabulary and present them with scenerios that they may have never seen before. Using pretend play to teach children about critical issues is very important as well.

  2. Absolutely! Making room for play provides a regular space for children to collaboratively work out their understandings of the world. Your post is so relevant, echoing Vivian Paley’s keynote address at NAEYC last night.