There are few things more fascinating than watching young children engaging in role play. It is like having a window into their thoughts, fears, interests and view of the world.
While this type of play usually happens spontaneously, without much adult guidance, you can help spur it on by asking the right questions or providing props, objects or waste materials.
A child whose environment is set up for learning will take on the challenge. It can be as simple as introducing some new dress-up items, offering empty boxes or a sheet of fabric and seeing what kids do with it.
Other times you may want to facilitate a role play idea and see if your kids go with it.
Remember, as a parent or teacher, you are supporting and encouraging play, not taking over or directing it.
Whether you are setting up role play for children in your classroom or encouraging it at home, here are some simple ideas for fun role-playing activities for kids.
The Importance of Role Play for Kids
Role play is when a child engaging in pretend play (or dramatic play) takes on a role of a person, animal or other being and acts out a scenario.
The child has various ideas about the role that the person or animal plays – their actions, responsibilities, feelings, worries, etc.
By taking on the role, the child uses the pretence as a safe way to act out their feelings and explore the ideas they have about that particular role.
As they “walk in someone’s shoes”, they learn empathy and develop some insight into how people act and behave in various situations, such as putting a crying baby to sleep or arresting a thief.
While engaging in this play with others, children develop expressive language skills and social skills as they communicate, share, work together in different roles, solve conflicts and consider each others’ opinions and ideas.
Examples of Role Play Scenarios
Here are just a few common examples of kids’ role play:
- Pushing a doll in a pram
- Pretending to be a super-hero
- Going shopping and “paying” for items
- Having an adult conversation on a toy phone
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30 Kids Role Play Ideas
Here are some role-playing ideas and topics that preschoolers and toddlers will enjoy.
While you can purchase kids role play outfits online (here are a few), use your imagination and compromise. A white sheet will work well as a super-hero cape and a cardboard box can be turned into many things.
This is one of the most common role play activities and can take many forms – a nurse seeing a patient, a doctor consulting in her rooms, an operation in a hospital.
Provide some white coats and medical tools to work with. What can you use as an x-ray machine or a blood pressure monitor?
2. Cooking and Baking
This activity is one that keeps many toddlers and preschoolers busy, sometimes for years.
Because eating is such a big part of daily life, and kids watch their parents do it daily, they naturally like to pretend to prepare food (sometimes invisible) and offer it to you.
This is an easy one to provide props for – just raid your kitchen – and it’s just as easy to substitute items. A wooden block can be many things in a kitchen.
This topic often takes the form of being a baker or a chef, working in a bakery or restaurant.
More than just about cooking, kids who play “restaurant” enjoy the whole set-up – a table with a tablecloth, pretend menus, a waiter wearing an apron, a pen and paper to take your order, and so on.
Kids take turns to be the waiter and the customer, enjoying their pretend food (use these cooking activities if you’d like to use real food).
Remember to pay for the meal after!
Playing shop is also another favourite with kids.
You can keep this simple or you can really go to town with this one. Set up some shelves, groceries, price tags, shopping baskets, a till, a payment system, a sign for your grocery store and even some play money.
There are many ways to integrate creative art by making props for the shop.
Ask your kids what kind of shop they are setting up. Is it a grocery shop, clothing store or gift shop?
5. Mommy and Daddy
Young children often start pretending to take care of babies when they are just toddlers themselves. Being taken care of is their first experience in the world and they naturally like to put this role into practice.
They like to pretend to be moms and dads who feed their baby, put her to sleep, change her nappy and comfort her when upset.
Kids can use their own items from when they were babies, as well as dolls, to play this role. They also love walking babies in toys or real prams.
Sometimes, the role play is not focused on caring for a single child, but rather playing out a family going about its business.
In this scenario, children assign themselves different roles. One child is a mother, one is a father and others are children, grandparents or even pets.
They can go on outings together, visit family or even act out parents disciplining their arguing children.
7. Office Worker
Kids who have watched their parents or others working in an office-style job – whether at home or at a place of work – will want to mimic this activity.
Set up an office in the class or home with a desk, some paper and pens, a “computer” (this can be made from cardboard or boxes), some books, a telephone and other fun props.
Kids will get very busy going about their “work,” shuffling papers and having some heated phone conversations too.
For this fun idea, kids pretend to be construction workers – from bricklayers to painters, even architects.
You’ll need some tools to match the job – paintbrushes, overcoats, hammers, a roll of paper for the building plans, a hard hat, etc.
Kids love animals and they also like to pretend to be them. Sometimes, they just have a fascination with a particular animal, other times they like to act out animals they have heard or seen often.
A child who puts on butterfly wings and a headband with feelers will take on the persona of the butterfly and start flying about or crawling on the ground.
There are many animal costumes available but this is also easy to improvise. For example, a cardboard box makes a good tortoise shell, and a paper plate can be turned into a mask of almost any animal.
If kids have been exposed to professional dancers of any kind, they may enjoy taking on the role of a serious dancer in a music video, or a ballerina in a stage musical.
All you need is a ballet or swimming costume and a few props.
Have some musical instruments the kids can play with? Why not challenge them to start a band or play in a symphony orchestra?
Make instruments such as shakers and drums, or use pots and pans for some cymbals and drums.
If your child has ever come with you when you’ve taken a pet to the vet, or if she’s seen a vet on a television show, this one is likely to be played out on your pet, or on a toy animal if your pet is lucky.
This usually involves injections and knives!
Playing out a visit to the dentist can be purely for fun, or it can help iron out some nerves if they have ever had any procedure done.
You’ll need a big dentist’s chair, some fun tools and a big coat, then just say “aaah.”
Playing hairdresser can be loads of fun. Take turns being the hairdresser and the client, or push a row of chairs together if there are several clients and hairdressers in a salon.
You’ll need some hairdryers, clips, brushes, pretend shampoo, etc.
Very often, when a young kid comes whizzing past you on the playground, there’s a high chance they are acting out a superhero.
Young kids are fascinated with superheroes. They see them on TV, admire them and want to be them.
Kids love buying costumes of the superheroes who are trending at a particular time, and sometimes parents can’t get their kids to ever take these costumes off! They can be improvised as well.
16. Scary Creature
Apart from acting out animals, kids have a fascination with large creatures – sometimes mythical – that they deem powerful or scary.
Examples of these are dinosaurs, monsters, dragons, ghosts and giants.
This kind of role-play can sometimes help ease kids real fears about monsters and other creatures.
17. Racing Drivers
Very often, when wheels are involved, there’s also a race happening.
Whether kids are riding tricycles, small bikes or other vehicles, they like to pretend they are professional drivers or sportsmen on a racing track.
To act this out, they need some rules, some road signs and some helmets.
Kids love acting out jobs with serious responsibility, especially when there’s danger involved.
All they need are some hard hats, an oversized jacket and a makeshift hosepipe to put out those fires. They could get creative and make a fire engine from a big box, with a siren on top.
19. Train Driver
A few kids and some plastic chairs can turn into a fun train ride in no time at all.
Get them to link arms and ride the train to practise their coordination. The train driver needs a smart jacket and a wheel in the front seat.
20. Bus Driver
The theme of being the driver can also apply to a bus.
Children enjoy acting out the scenario of the bus stopping at the stops, dropping off and picking up passengers, and letting them pay for their trip.
Another favourite in the transport theme is flying. Children enjoy taking on the role of the pilot, but also of being passengers on a long flight, or air hostesses serving drinks and snacks.
Kids enjoy pretending to take off and land. Ask them to remember to give the safety briefing before take-off.
22. Tea Party
The traditional tea party is still a hit, especially with very young kids.
Ask your child if she’d like to invite her teddy bears, bunnies and stuffed animals to tea. Use a picnic blanket and a tea set and this activity will be a hit.
23. Favourite Book
If kids have a favourite book, or if you’ve been reading a book together recently, why not facilitate some role play about the story?
Stories like Goldilocks and the Three Bears, Cinderella or The Gruffalo can be fun to act out during play.
This can also apply to favourite television shows – kids may enjoy pretending to be the characters from Peppa Pig or Paw Patrol.
Playing with playdough can often spur on pretend play. As kids mould the dough, they often bring characters to life, such as dinosaurs, insects or people.
While they are playing, ask some questions about the characters and what they are going to do and see if some storyline develops between the playdough characters.
Watch a group of young children playing in a class and you are bound to see them take on the role of the teacher at some point.
They also like to give their family members the role of the students, while they teach them things and order them about.
Kids enjoy dressing in adult clothes and jewellery to play the teacher. They will need a large board to write on, a desk, some books and some stamps or stickers as rewards
Pretending to be a policeman or policewoman appeals to children’s desire to act out roles where they are in charge and make the rules.
During play, these rules are taken very seriously and kids enjoy acting out the responsibility of people in these roles
27. The Boss
Continuing with the theme of authority figures, you will often hear a child proudly declaring themself “the boss”, even though they usually just appoint themselves in this role.
As long as the others accept this authority, no displays of disobedience are tolerated when children are playing.
The boss could sometimes be a boss in a particular context – such as an office – but sometimes it is just the person in charge of the play. Either way, it is an important role!
‘Pirates’ is such a fun theme to act out. The costume is cool and it can be fairly easily made with substituted items.
A large box (boat) big enough to fit a few pirates will be a hit. Don’t forget the eye patch, sword and treasure chest!
29. Prince or Princess
With all the mention of princes and princesses being brave, finding true love and living happily ever after, it’s no wonder kids often pretend to live out these fairy tales.
There are some cute costumes available for princes and princesses, but they can also play this role with just a few props or some adult clothes.
30. Zookeeper or Game Ranger
Any play that involves animals is always a favourite with young children. Get kids to pretend to be game rangers in a big nature reserve or zookeepers in a zoo.
Use tables, chairs, boxes or crates to make enclosures for the stuffed animals. Kids can pretend to feed the animals, talk about the animals to visitors and take them for their medical check-ups.
These are just a few role play topics that you can try to introduce, but there are ideas everywhere around us. The only limit is your imagination.
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