A child has returned Monday and all talk is about how slimy the recently-caught fish were, how much fun it was to sleep in a tent, and the joy of sitting on logs next to a fire instead of eating dinner in the kitchen. The other 3-year-olds sit wide-eyed and curious at the thought of his weekend camping adventures.  Some add stories of similar dining and sleeping experiences and some can only imagine. What would it feel like to sleep with a lantern instead of my nightlight? How do I bait a fish? What should my mom pack so I can go camping?

The day goes on, favorite toys are played with, familiar books are read and the idea of camping has bled into dramatic play. It quickly becomes obvious that the experience shared earlier, has become the popular theme for many of the children. At the end of the day, camping and fishing are the only topics your child is interested in discussing. How can you expand on the interests of your children, especially when an adventure like camping may not be realistic weekend plans? Look to dramatic play tap your child’s sense of adventure and encourage imaginative learning.

Dramatic play is a fancy way of referring to pretend or imaginative play. You can establish and lead dramatic play easily with a few simple elements that will expand with a child’s endless

small indoor tent

A tent, a map, and a compass can launch lessons on the environment and geography.


  1. Set the scene: a kitchen stove set, shelves or clothing rack, child-sized or doll sized furniture
  2. Provide a few basic props: multi-cultural puppets, dress-up clothes, gardening tools, or an old phone
  3. Allow you children to use their imagination to come up with ways to role-play and portray (real or imagined) life experiences. Allow for materials to be used in ways you hadn’t thought of or intended; this is part of open-ended and creative play.

Creating a Camping Trip – at Home or in the Classroom

  • How magical would it be for your children to find a tent set up in their classroom, or sleeping bags, or a lantern and canteens in the backyard?
  • Empty paper towel rolls or stuffed brown socks can become logs to build a “campfire.” (Or, with a little bit of sewing practice and some fabric, you can make your own fire set.)
  • S’mores can be made in the microwave (set your ingredients up and zap for 15 seconds)
  • Even on the snowiest of days, who needs a pond to go fishing? Have your children cut out and decorate fish to “catch” out of a pond made out of a blue pillowcase on the ground.
    Campfire craft

    Sew flames and logs or reuse paper towel rolls to create a safe indoor or outdoor play campfire.

Dramatic Play – Simple and So Valuable

No matter the theme, it can be affordable and easy to set an engaging scene, like camping to explore nature, an airplane trip to initiate lessons about world nations and cultures, or appliance boxes to imagine a lunar landing. Common household materials, borrowed items, and reusable objects can be created to further expand any new interest.

Through dramatic play, children exercise their language and social skills, cooperation and emotional skills, self-help skills and more. It can give children a chance to make sense of something they are going through, experience a new role, or process something that may be approaching (a new classroom, a new baby at home, or a move).

Share with us some creative ways your child has inspired dramatic play with you.