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The Importance of a Creative Role Play Area

6 Ideas to Refresh your Outdoor Role Play Provision this Summer

Whether it’s calling out for their next patient, making a cup of tea for the tiger or baking a cake for their customers, role play has always been a crucial part of children’s play and development.

Role play is a fun way for children to learn about themselves, others and their environment. Children’s imaginations thrive whilst playing ‘in role’ which links to Pentagon’s current campaign ‘What A Child Sees.’

Creativity is developed, they are able to solve problems and their performance in many curriculum subjects is enhanced.

two children wearing blue school jumpers and grey trousers are playing on a climbing frame that has been installed onto artificial grass.

Make time to play

As a teacher I know the curriculum is vast and demanding. Once you’ve done the register, phonics, maths, P.E. and practised for the school assembly there can often feel like very little time is left for play.

3 children lying on artificial grass under a yellow and blue sheet which they have used to make a den using the den making posts. The den has been built in front of multi-coloured fencing.

However, I have seen role play areas used in every class in the school. Yes, even Year 6 had a Victorian sitting room and Year 5 a crime scene investigation area!

I could see first-hand the impact those areas had on children’s progress across the curriculum particularly in literacy.

3 children wearing red cardigans are playing inside of a giant playhouse with a chalkboard, the chalkboard has lots of scribbles on it different coloured chalk. The playhouse has been installed onto artificial grass.

What benefits can role play areas bring to your playground?

Through role play, children make sense of what they have seen or experienced.

Even my baby daughter engages in imitation, she picks up her toy keys, phone, bag and shoes and she’s ready to play! My four years old’s imagination knows no bounds.

3 children playing at a mud kitchen whilst three children playing with a rope and pulley which has been installed next to the mud kitchen onto artificial grass.

Just this week I was a client in her salon, a babysitter, a cave girl and I had to plan a party for the fairies!

My daughter’s own experiences, detail, use of language and social interaction grow when engaged in this type of play.

2 boys, one wearing a blue bib and one stood in the goal on a multi-use games area playing football with an orange football. The muga has been installed in front of the school building.


Improve language and communication skills

Children can be anyone and do anything in their make-believe world. Imaginative play and Storytelling Areas can be enhanced for example with a puppet theatre.

Hand puppets, finger puppets and dolls are brilliant for encouraging a rich variety of spoken language.

one girl with blonde hair and wearing a red coat is sat on a storytelling chair in front of 3 artificial grass topped seats with toy dinosaurs sat on each of the seats. The chair and seats have been placed onto artificial grass.

A key part of imaginative play is pretending that an object or space is something else so it is useful to provide generic items even ‘junk’ items such as cardboard boxes of different shapes and sizes, tubes, fabric and natural resources.

When playing, children learn to listen and respond appropriately to their peers. They are building their vocabulary by articulating their answers, arguments and opinions.

They are able to maintain attention and participate actively in collaborative conversations, staying on topic and initiating and responding to comments.

4 children performing on a performance stage with blue safeturf surfacing with yellow stars on, and chalkboard at the back, whilst 9 children sit on benches in the audience. The performance stage and benches have been installed next to two large trees.

Role play is particularly important for a child’s social and personal development. They learn social skills when playing with their peers and they are able to take on other people’s perspectives.

Self-regulation through compromise, co-operation and understanding are needed as children agree the roles and rules of play.

Lookout Cabin
Lookout Cabin

Lookout Cabin

A wonderful den making and playhouse resource, providing a comfortable break away space in your playground

Find out more

A greater understanding of mathematical concepts

Children’s understanding of mathematical concepts can be supported through exposure to number, shape and problem solving in role play areas.

They learn about money as they pay for their items, they share when setting places at the table, a cup for me and a cup for you, they count in doubles when matching socks and talk about sizes of clothing.

one child stood at a construction table playing with different coloured blocks which has been placed in front of 2 whiteboards onto artificial grass.

Even when tidying up they are grouping items by colour and size, hopefully!

Having a washing line with numbered pegs for the doll’s clothes would encourage counting and reading of numbers where children are able to clearly see one more and one less.

2 children wearing white tops and grey trousers are stood at a whiteboard outside drawing pictures. The whiteboard has been installed onto artificial grass.

Simple recipe cards can be followed and scoops and spoons can be counted, sand timers can be turned whilst waiting for their cakes to cook!

Toy telephones and phonebooks created by the teacher increase number awareness and numbered envelopes in the post office helps to recognise place value of numbers.

One boy wearing a green coat putting sticks and twigs into the weighing scales which has been installed onto red and green safeturf in front of a wooden fence.


Work together to solve problems

Problem solving skills are introduced through role play activities.

Having a camp fire role play or building an Outdoor Den is a good way to give children the opportunity to progress their construction skills.

The experience allows children to use positional language and develop their understanding of shape and space.

The children will be able to explore resources such as sheets, curtains, poles, clips and string.

3 children sat inside of a den that has been made using 5 den making poles and an orange, purple and green sheet to use as the roof. The poles have been installed onto the artificial grass and there is a large blue bucket at the side of the den.

They will decide which materials they need to build their camp and the best place to erect it.

Practitioners can model positional words and phrases and children could go on a scavenger hunt bringing stones, twigs and leaves back to the campsite to sort.

Children rarely have opportunities to investigate objects that are really heavy.

2 children wearing firefighter fancy dress costumes and yellow hard hats are playing with a yellow tube to pretend it is a hosepipe stood next to 5 den making poles that have been installed onto artificial grass.

Creating a ‘building site’ in an outdoor area allows children to explore measure as well as co-operating and finding new ways to do things.

Mathematical language will be used when transporting buckets of sand and gravel to the site and strategies will be needed to lift the buckets.

2 boys wearing white tops are playing with a rope and pulley, whilst 5 children play at the large mud kitchen which has been installed next to the rope and pulley. Both products have been installed onto artificial grass in front of a large field.


Learn to express feelings

The use of a role play area allows children to be able to express their feelings. They begin to be able to describe how they are feeling and can relate to how others are feeling.

They may be generous and show an understanding of sharing. They can show affection for their friends for example by creating a drawing for them.

9 children playing in an eyfs playground that has a roadway, artificial grass, a sandpit and water table and storage space. There are 2 children playing on trikes on the roadway. The sky is bright blue with not a cloud in sight.

Through play children learn how to get better at managing strong emotions such as anger, frustration and disappointment.

They will try hard to follow the rules of the game and begin to show patience when wating for things.

Role play areas have the potential to celebrate and support learning about different cultures.

Children begin to understand themselves and their identity as well as acknowledging and celebrating different cultures.
5 children sat on artificial grass topped seats listening to a teacher reading a story book, the teacher is sat on a storytelling chair that has been installed onto artificial grass.

Role play areas can include babies and toys representing different races, genders and physical appearances.

Food and traditional costumes that are culturally significant or different for the children in the setting allows for exploration and celebrates cultural diversity through play.

12 children wearing a mix of yellow, blue and red bibs are playing inside of a giant playhouse with a chalkboard that has been installed onto artificial grass in front of the school fencing. There are many houses on the other side of the fencing.

Get set for summer role play

There are so many exciting things that your role play area can become.

By changing your space into something new it can allow children to extend their current learning and understanding of many different aspects of society, occupations and culture.

6 children playing with a water table and water wall. 4 children are wearing white polo tops, one child is wearing a blue school summer dress and one child wearing a grey dress. The play equipment has been installed in front of the school building.

With those beautiful, sunny days on the horizon making use of an outdoor space for your role play area would provide your class with hours of fun and learning opportunities.

Here are some suggested Summer Role Play ideas which may appeal to the interests of the children in your setting.

3 girls wearing light blue school summer dresses are playing on get, set go! blocks that have been placed onto artificial grass next to the school building.


Get planting at the garden centre or florist

Inspire green fingered children’s imagination with an outdoor garden centre. Senses will be awakened when feeling the texture of the soil and seeds.

Children will enjoy smelling different scents and recognising the different colours of petals.

2 girls wearing yellow tops and 1 boy wearing a purple jumper are planting flowers into a planter whilst one boy wearing a purple jumper walks past the planter. The planter has been installed onto artificial grass in front of the school building.

The use of a garden Gazebo, sorting table or planter would be the perfect base to build your role play.

Children will be able to name different seeds and flowers and will develop an understanding of how plants grow.

They can use a variety of gardening tools such as hand trowels, forks and wheels barrows to scoop compost and develop gross motor skills.

Measurements can be taken when growing beans or sunflowers and capacity can be explored when filling watering cans.

2 children wearing red overalls and wellington boots are digging in a mud pit with a rope and pulley. The mud pit has been installed in front of the school building.

Eye-catching posters can advertise opening times and special offers and instructions on seed packets can be read.

Children will learn responsibility and patience when growing their own produce and healthy eating will be encouraged.

2 boys wearing white tops and grey trousers are watering some plants with red and blue watering cans. The planters have been installed onto artificial grass.


Anyone for lemonade?

A Water Table or Water Wall can be transformed into a lemonade stand with a couple of drops of yellow food colouring, some lemon slices and a few cups!

4 children wearing red waterproof bibs with multi-coloured shapes on them are playing with a water wall. There is water splashing out of the plastic tubes.

Children could be involved in making their own lemonade by squeezing lemons, carefully adding sugar and crushing ice which develops fine motor skills and hand-eye co-ordination.

Opportunities for writing occur when creating their own open and closed and price signs.

Conversations will take place which involve designating different jobs and turn- taking.

one boy wearing a white top and grey jeans is stood on some small steps that have been topped with artificial grass at a water wall pouring water into one of the plastic tubes.


How many scoops would you like?

Pentagon’s shop panels and Chalkboards would be the ideal resources when creating your own ice cream parlour.

This theme would be popular with many children and adults!

The use of ice cream scoops, squirty bottles and shakers for sprinkles aid fine motor development.

3 girls wearing red overalls and wellington boots are playing with mud whilst one girl with brown hair and purple wellington boots is playing at the mud kitchen.

Children can get crafty when making cones from brown cardboard and pom poms or tissue paper make the perfect ice cream flavours.

To add an element of messy play and utilise your Mud Kitchen ice creams could be made from sand, mud or even conditioner and cornstarch.

Writing can be practised when filling in customer order forms, counting and one- to- one correspondence can be practised when counting out scoops of ice cream.

The exchange of money is another benefit to this type of dramatic play.

2 girls, one wearing a pink coat and one wearing a black coat at stood at a mud kitchen playing with mud in two bowls, they are also wearing red and white polka dot chef hats.


Row out to the lighthouse on the rocks

A Climber or a Play Tower can provide the base for so many different role play areas.

For the summer term I like the idea of a lighthouse based on the popular book, ‘The Lighthouse Keeper’s Lunch.’

This text is rich in language and the children could be encouraged to use new vocabulary they have acquired through reading, in their play.

12 children wearing green jumpers are playing on the new play tower with a pole that has been installed onto artificial grass in front of the school building. One girl is sliding down the pole onto the grass.

A greater awareness of space would be needed when groups of children are playing together on the equipment, children will learn how to share the space with others.

3 children are playing on a climbing frame, one child is wearing a multi-coloured stripe coat whilst one boy wearing a blue coat is walking past the climbing frame on the blue safeturf surfacinng.

Groups of children could be involved in problem solving by devising their own rope and pulley system.

They will need to deliver the food from the house on the rocks to the lighthouse and come up with a way to stop the pesky seagulls getting to it, just like in the book.

3 children wearing blue school jumpers are playing in a sandpit that has a rope and pulley, it has been installed in between two large trees in front of a waterwall.


Start digging at the excavation site

A large Sand Pit would be the perfect place for a key stage 2 role play area.

It would be easy to set up this space by adding some rock and fossil samples, coins and pebbles to the sand.

You could even create your own dinosaur bones from clay or salt dough.

A variety of tools could be explored including paintbrushes, toothbrushes, magnifiers, cameras and children’s hammers and chisels.

4 children playing with a sand box with one boy wearing a red top with black sleeves is smiling at the camera whilst he plays with the sand.

Classes would love to be archaeologists and palaeontologists, finding their own new discoveries.

This type of explorative play would link perfectly when studying evolution and inheritance in year 6.

The children may study the work of the palaeontologist Mary Anning which could lead to some brilliant biography writing.

2 girls, one wearing a purple coat and one wearing a red coat are playing with sand in a sandbox. The sandbox has been installed onto artificial grass next to a school path.


At the car wash!

From my experience children never tire of water play.

A car wash allows children to explore an adult occupation and on very hot days they may even be allowed a hose, under close supervision!

Armed with their cloths and chamois leathers children can clean and polish cars, trikes, scooters and other vehicles your setting may have.

3 boys riding on red trikes on a roadway whilst one boy stands on artificial grass in the middle of the roadway. Behind the roadway is a performance stage which has been installed next to the school building.

They could devise their own pricing system and once the cars are cleaned, they will have great fun riding them round the track and parking them up.

You could use this area to aid phonics lessons by writing on the vehicles using calk pens and asking children to read words/sounds before wiping them away.

4 children wearing blue school jumpers are riding on blue trikes driving around on the roadway. They are driving past a hobbit house and wobbly bridge.

Role play areas spark children’s enthusiasm, imagination and creative play.

They are vitally important in early years education but can transcend throughout primary school.

a class of children are playing on a north sea galleon which has been installed on to blue safeturf surfacing in front of the school building and next to a brown fence. One child is climbing the climbing wall.

Role play areas require children to move, to interact, to gain confidence and to listen.

Consult with your children, adapt and change your environment, observe them in play and you will see those children flourish