Director’s Review Week of November 6, 2020 / 19 Heshvan 5781 / Learning the Merits of Dramatic Play . . . in High School
As early-childhood educators, we are always defending the value of play. It’s often underestimated and overlooked as a critical skill for children to develop during early childhood. Those of us who understand and have studied the merits of play recognize that the critical thinking, problem solving, turn-taking, and expressive language needed for successful collaborative play are essential skills for lifelong learning.
You can imagine my delight when my freshman daughter (I cannot believe I am old enough to have a daughter who is a freshman in high school) came home extolling the virtues of dramatic play and sharing an excerpt she received from the Child Development Institute at Sarah Lawrence College in English class detailing why dramatic play is important to child development. Her class is currently reading To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, a classic piece of American literature. She walked into my home office and said, “I get it, Mom. I understand what you have been saying all this time about dramatic play.” I thought it was truly amazing that she made this discovery by reading a novel that so many of us experienced in high school.
My daughter continued to share her analysis of the book. She recognized how Scout’s older brother Jem creates the Boo Radley game to genuinely find out more about the elusive character who never leaves his house. Jem uses his imagination in dramatic play scenarios to experiment and test out ideas about Boo that he doesn’t know to be true. Even though their father, Atticus, advises them to leave Boo alone and to respect his privacy, their childhood curiosity motivates them to learn more about their mysterious neighbor, and they construct their learning through play. Jem attempts to walk in Boo Radley’s shoes by taking on new roles and wondering what it is like to be him. By doing this, Jem creates an understanding of Boo even though it is only pretend. This satisfies his need to know and appeases him for the moment.
And that is the magic of dramatic play. It empowers children to play out various schemes that exist in their minds. Sometimes, as in Jem and Scout’s case, it helps them satisfy their curiosity about a stranger. For our students, it helps them learn about a variety of people, places, and things that intrigue them.
While education changes and evolves, and while we need to remain nimble and open to new learning, play will always be the most valuable aspect of early childhood learning. It is comforting to know that dramatic play is still in effect even during high school English class discussions.