The democratic decision making processes in pre-k dramatic play

Gemma Fagan, Preschool Teacher
Every few weeks we change the theme of the dramatic play area…we may or may not also change the layout of the classroom because of it. When I was in preschool (yes, I still remember it) the dramatic play space was an area that resembled a play kitchen, had some dress up clothes, and a few fancy hats. I remember having fun in that area, but it never changed. When my younger sister entered that classroom, it was still the same kitchen, with the same dress up clothes, and a bunch of hats that used to be fancy. Our classroom will most likely have 8 to 10 different themes this year, please feel free to help with an area if you are so inclined. We have already had a baby care center and a sandwich shop. Ideas that we have used in the past include an art studio, grocery store, bakery, juice, bar, farmers market, spaceship, campsite, entomology lab, submarine, and a flower shop.
Regardless of the props, the underlying beauty of a dramatic play area is still the same: It is a safe place for children to experiment with the social and emotional roles of everyday life; And,it is a place where children can be creative and use their imaginations, not confined by the structure of a teacher initiated idea or activity. The children are learning to interact with their peers and the world around them, pulling knowledge from things they have personally experienced, things they have seen in books or on TV, and conversations they have had or merely just overheard. There is often “drama,” heated phone calls, and sometimes a life or death situation…but in the end, there is always a happy ending!
For the next few weeks the dramatic play area is a vet clinic. The children each pitch an idea for the next theme. We narrowed the choices down by taking out the options that revolved around food as we just had a Sandwich Shop, that left us with 4 choices: a doctor’s office, an aquarium, a dress-up area, and a vet clinic. Each child cast a vote. Some learned that if you cast your vote for something that is not on the list, your vote is essentially wasted. They also learned that you just get one vote, and once you’ve voted, you can’t change your mind.
We often vote in our classroom as we find including the children in decision making processes gives them a sense of responsibility and ownership that empowers them to make changes in their (classroom) community. Decisions can include what should be in a learning center, should we have outside play before or after learning centers, what books to read, and other simple everyday choices.

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Boulder Country Day School, where academic distinction meets education with character. BCD is a top rated, accredited private school in Boulder, Colorado where every child has the opportunity to discover their own unique excellence. Distinguished by small class sizes, outstanding faculty, engaging academics and a focus on community, our preschool, elementary and IB middle school teachers strive to create a well-rounded educational environment that balances traditional subjects with the arts, world languages, athletics and knowledge based units.