Sociodramatic play (interacting with others)

​Sociodramatic play is where children act out imaginary situations and stories, become different characters, and pretend they are in different locations and times.

Overview

When imaginative/dramatic play is shared with others, this becomes sociodramatic play. It can involve the use of props, costumes, and scenery, but this isn’t a requirement. It is possible for sociodramatic play to make use of nothing but children’s imagination.

Sociodramatic play is the most advanced form of play, and constantly changes (is fluid and dynamic) according to the interests and ideas of children.

The benefits of sociodramatic play

Sociodramatic play allows children to explore and create new worlds. The possibilities of children’s sociodramatic play are endless. This teaching practice can be a powerful tool for learning language, as children take on roles/characters, act out various scenarios and stories, and solve problems using language and movement.

Features of sociodramatic play

Sociodramatic play usually involves children:

  • developing roles
  • creating their own storylines
  • making up their own spoken lines (dialogue)
  • interacting with each other
  • directing each other in play.

(Dinham & Chalk, 2018)

Children use play to practice important language and social skills, including:

  • joining in
  • sharing and taking turns
  • ways of interacting through different relationships (parent/child, brother/sister, doctor/patient)
  • negotiating with each other about how the play will go.

(Dinham & Chalk, 2018)

The educator’s role in sociodramatic play

Educators can take on many different roles during sociodramatic play. How involved educators are will depend on what the learning intention of the experience is, and how children are interacting.

Continuum of adult involvement

Onlooker:

  • appreciates ongoing drama
  • nods, smiles, and so forth.

Store manager:

  • gathers materials
  • makes props
  • constructs costumes
  • organises set
  • makes scipt suggestions. 

Co-player:

  • assumes role
  • mediates dialogue
  • guides plit
  • defines roles and responsilities of characters.

Play leader:

  • introduces conflict
  • facilitates dialogues
  • solves problems. 

Adapted from Enz (1995). Educators can be more or less involved in sociodramatic play, depending on the learning intentions. Also see Jones and Reynolds (2011).

The framework above links to the VEYLDF (2016) Practice Principle: Integrated Teaching and Learning Approaches, which draws distinctions between:

  • child-directed play and learning (similar to the onlooker role)
  • guided play and learning (similar to the stage manager and co-player roles)
  • adult-led learning (similar to the play leader role).

The VEYLDF emphasises that:

Integrated teaching and learning approaches involve adults drawing on and moving between the three approaches in an interweaving way.

Note: In the performing arts section, the use of drama for interacting with others is explored further.

Embedding language in sociodramatic play

General principles:

  • When setting up play experiences, think about what language concepts, words, sentences, stories, and discussions could be embedded.
  • Demonstrate to children how props, costumes, and spaces can be used in sociodramatic play.
  • Encourage children to imagine what a particular prop or costume could symbolise (e.g. using a block as a phone).
  • Think about what role you will play in the experience (e.g. the onlooker, stage manager, co-player, or play leader).

When using play as a teaching practice for interacting with others, there are a range of learning foci that educators can embed. See the experience plans for more information.

Some brief examples include:

Concept development and vocabulary

  • Think about what words and concepts can be embedded within a certain play situation.
  • Make a list of words that you can embed in a particular scenario, including: nouns (people, places, things), verbs (actions, processes), adjectives (describing words), and prepositions (location words).
  • For example: animal shelter, art gallery, beach, bus or train, camping, circus, garage, magic scenarios, ocean, outer space, rainforest/jungle, radio station, travel agency, weather station.  

Conversation and social skills

  • If you are participating as a co-player or play leader: model and prompt children during play to develop their skills in joining in, sharing, and taking turns.
  • Allow children to use sociodramatic play to practise using language as different roles/characters.
  • Help to model and prompt for negotiating and problem-solving skills during play.

Stories and narratives

  • Provide children with prompts, props, costumes and pictures to help stimulate re-enacting of stories from books or storytelling experiences.
  • Encourage children to create their own stories, including new characters and new actions/events.   

Explanations and sharing information

  • Use lots of language during play situations to provide opportunities for children to hear about the names of things, how they work, and why things happen.
  • Use open questions (e.g. tell me more about that, or what do you think about that?) to encourage children to label, describe, and explain objects or actions in their play.
  • Ask what for, why, and how questions to help children express their opinions and observations, as this leads to sustained and shared interactions.

Higher order language

  • Model and prompt children to come up with their own names for characters, places, and things during sociodramatic play. This shows children how they can use language creatively during their play.
  • For example: call the place you are visiting “wavy pavy land”, make a new dish called “ice-cream bolognaise”, meet a strange animal called a “squirrelly lizard”, or create a flying boat called a “boat-a-fly”.

Theory to practice

Sociodramatic play is a way for children to develop social and language skills, by creating imaginary worlds, characters, and scenarios, which relate to the real world (Smilansky, 1968).

Children use play to re-create [the] world and model the social behaviour they see in it. In this way they can experience the world without risking the consequences. - Toye & Prendiville (2013, p. 11)

Like oral language, sociodramatic play is learnt through social interaction and modelling of play in context (Toye & Prendiville, 2013).

In line with Vygotsky’s (1967) socio-cultural learning, play allows children to be supported by a more capable “player”. For sociodramatic play, this means that older peers and educators can model more advanced play using elements of drama teaching. This will then allow children to learn collaboratively, and eventually be able to engage in more advanced sociodramatic play by themselves.

It is important for educators to model and extend upon children’s play (Smilansky, 1968; Fleer, 2016), so that children are challenged to continue building upon their own independent play experiences.

Evidence base

Because play can take many forms as a teaching practice, it is difficult to measure its impact on language learning.

Some reviews of research indicate that play (in general) is associated with the development of language and literacy skills, but it is not always possible to say that play itself has caused these changes in development (Lillard et al., 2013).

In one study (Nicolopoulou, Cortina, Ilgaz, Cates, & de Sá, 2015), the researchers found that children who participated in a storytelling and sociodramatic play program had improved language, emergent literacy, play, and self-regulation abilities.

Myck-Wayne’s (2010) study of dramatic play areas provided evidence that setting up these areas allows children to practise functional uses of language and literacy in context.

Also, in a review by Weisberg, Zosh and Hirsh-Pasek (2013) the following conclusions are made about the links between language and play:

  • play allows children to practice using symbols and understanding symbolic relationships (a key part of using language)
  • play encourages children to use more advanced language that is specific to certain scenarios or social roles
  • during play, there is a significant amount of language used by children, their peers, and adults, providing numerous opportunities for children to hear, practice, and learn language
  • play allows children to be in control and engaged in the interaction, and when adults follow this lead, children are likely to learn more language (compared to an adult-led experience).

Links to VEYLDF

Outcome 1: identity

Children feel safe, secure and supported

  • confidently explore and engage with social and physical environments through relationships and play
  • initiate and join in play
  • explore aspects of identity through role-play.

Children develop knowledgeable and confident self-identities

  • explore different identities and points of view in dramatic play
  • engage in and contribute to shared play experiences.

Outcome 2: community

Children develop a sense of belonging to groups and communities and an understanding of the reciprocal rights and responsibilities necessary for active civic participation

  • cooperate with others and negotiate roles and relationships in play episodes and group experiences
  • build on their own social experiences to explore other ways of being
  • understand different ways of contributing through play and projects
  • are playful and respond positively to others, reaching out for company and friendship.

Children become socially responsible and show respect for the environment

  • use play to investigate, project and explore new ideas.      

Outcome 4: learning

Children develop dispositions for learning such as curiosity, cooperation, confidence, creativity, commitment, enthusiasm, persistence, imagination and reflexivity

  • use play to investigate, imagine and explore ideas
  • initiate and contribute to play experiences emerging from their own ideas.

Children transfer and adapt what they have learnt from one context to another

  • use the processes of play, reflection and investigation to problem-solve.

Children resource their own learning through connecting with people, place, technologies and natural and processed materials

  • explore ideas and theories using imagination, creativity and play.

Outcome 5: communication

Children interact verbally and non-verbally with others for a range of purposes

  • use language and representations from play, music and art to share and project meaning
  • contribute their ideas and experiences in play and small and large group discussion
  • exchange ideas, feelings and understandings using language and representations in play.

Children express ideas and make meaning using a range of media

  • use language and engage in symbolic play to imagine and create roles, scripts and ideas
  • share the stories and symbols of their own cultures and re-enact well-known stories
  • use the creative arts, such as drawing, painting, sculpture, drama, dance, movement, music and story-telling, to express ideas and make meaning.

Children begin to understand how symbols and pattern systems work

  • use symbols in play to represent and make meaning

Children use information and communication technologies to access information, investigate ideas and represent their thinking

  • identify the uses of technologies in everyday life and use real or imaginary technologies as props in their play.

Experience plans and videos

For age groups: early communicators (birth - 18 months); early language users  (12 - 36 months).

For age groups: language and emergent literacy learners (30 - 60 months).

Links to learning foci and teaching practices

References

Dinham, J., & Chalk, B. (2018). It’s arts play: Young children belonging, being and becoming through the arts. Sydney, Australia: Oxford University Press.

Enz, B. J. (1995) Adult roles in supporting children's literacy. In C. A. Kempers & A. L. Trefsger Miles (Eds.), Linking literacy and play (pp.18-22). Newark, DE: International Reading Association.

Fleer, M. (2013). Play in the early years. Melbourne, Australia: Cambridge University Press.

Fleer, M. (2016). Play in the early years (2nd ed.). New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.

Jones, E., & Reynolds, G. (2011). The play's the thing: Teachers' roles in children's play (2nd ed.). New York, NY: Teachers College Press.

Lillard, A. S., Lerner, M. D., Hopkins, E. J., Dore, R. A., Smith, E. D., & Palmquist, C. M. (2013). The impact of pretend play on children’s development: A review of the evidence. Psychological Bulletin, 139(1), 1–34.

Myck-Wayne, J. (2010). In defense of play: Beginning the dialog about the power of play. Young Exceptional Children, 13(4), 14–23.

Nicolopoulou, A., Cortina, K. S., Ilgaz, H., Cates, C. B., & de Sá, A. B. (2015). Using a narrative- and play-based activity to promote low-income preschoolers’ oral language, emergent literacy, and social competence. Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 31, 147–162.

Smilansky, S. (1968). The effects of sociodramatic play on disadvantaged preschool children. New York, NY: John Wiley & Sons.

Toye, N., & Prendiville, F. (2013). Drama and traditional story for the early years. New York, NY: Routledge Falmer.

Victorian State Government Department of Education and Training (2016) Victorian early years learning and development framework (VEYLDF).

Victorian Curriculum and Assessment Authority (2016) Illustrative Maps from the VEYLDF to the Victorian Curriculum F–10.

Vygotsky, Lev S. (1967). Play and its role in the mental development of the child. Soviet Psychology, 5(3), 6–18.

Weisberg, D. S., Zosh, J. M., & Hirsh-Pasek, K. (2013). Talking it up: Play, language development, and the role of adult support. American Journal of Play, 6(1), 39–54.

Further reading:

Cremin, T., Flewitt, R., Mardell, B., & Swann, J. (2016). Storytelling in early childhood: enriching language, literacy and classroom culture. London and New York: Routledge.

Storytelling in Early Childhood is a captivating book which explores the multiple dimensions of storytelling and story acting and shows how they enrich language and literacy learning in the early years.