Hello, I’m Kyrah and my favourite thing is making up stories. I like to pretend that I’m a mum and that I’m going on holiday with my baby. We go to the beach. I’ve never been to the beach…
The importance of role-play should never be under-estimated in the Early Years classroom – it is an opportunity for children to explore the familiar and unfamiliar, to test out language and emotion, and to create their own narratives about the real and the imaginary. It is very much seen as ‘the realm of the child’ (ask any adult to role-play as part of a training day and the very thought sends most of them into an immediate decline.) And yet, how easy is it really for children to role-play? We assume it must come naturally, but in fact it often needs scaffolding and careful modelling, as well as subtle prompts and intriguing provocations to kick-start and sustain it, if it is to translate into quality role-play.
A simple way to initiate role-play rather than prescribe it, is to take one suitcase. In this case, one abandoned suitcase on the street outside someone’s house. A rather nice tapestry Mary Poppins-esque one that hints at the endless possibilities it might enclose.
A suitcase turns up in the classroom or playground and once opened, it stimulates a multitude of play scenarios. It doesn’t require a long set up for the practitioner, creating doctors’ waiting rooms or pinning up wall charts; or buying firefighters’ helmets for 30 children and presenting a large box already painted and converted into a stunning life-size fire-engine. This instead is guided open-ended role-play.
Let’s make a distinction: it isn’t deconstructed role-play, which relies on boxes, tyres, carpet cylinders and the like, which depends on children alone to create the scene and set it up. Instead guided open-ended role-play means that there are some ‘guides’ in the suitcase that can lead children to play out certain narratives or partake in specific activities, initiated and led by themselves. There are benefits to both deconstructed and guided, but the main thrust of the ‘take one suitcase’ approach is that it aids those children who don’t find that deconstructed role-play comes naturally. These children might need a bit more structure or guidance in their play but not so much that the play becomes totally adult-led and fixed.
So what to put in the suitcase? Well that really is up to you and your pupils. It might be some dolls, old baby bottles, disused mobile phones and handbags. It could contain old decorators’ paintbrushes and rollers, building merchant catalogues and tape measures. A suitcase might contain a range of recycled adult clothes including gloves and hats. It could be story-themed and contain books and some t-shirts made into superhero capes. We like to make sure there are always resources in the suitcase that might inspire mark-making or encourage looking at numbers, such as old diaries, telephone directories or train tickets.
An old suitcase is transportable and is easy to add things to (depending on children’s interests and needs). But most important of all…the children never know what will be inside. Until they open it.