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Dramatic Play Helps Children Learn

15 November 1995

m.gif (1191 bytes)anufacturers of elaborate and expensive educational toys are competing for parents' dollars this holiday season. But an educator at The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., says children learn most from how they play, not from the toys they play with.

Parents want their children to be smart. They believe toys can help youngsters develop learning skills and behaviors, says Anastasia Samaras, who directs the university's teacher education program.

Children learn from make believe. That's where youngsters take on the roles of others and learn about themselves and the world. Toys that light up, spin around and make a lot of noise are often ignored by children after the wrapping is discarded.

Toys that allow children ages 4 to 8 to play out adult roles are the most valuable. In such play, children want to be older and different from themselves. Make-believe play accelerates children's academic skills and helps them learn storytelling. Acting out helps young children learn to negotiate and accept others' viewpoints.

Parents can create inexpensive "prop" boxes tailored to a child's interests such as a post office, schoolroom, business office or restaurant. Children can run art galleries featuring their own creations, or start a floral shop with garden clippings. The boxes should contain clothing children can wear as they take on adult roles. Also include appropriate props such as a toy cash register, computer or blackboard, and plenty of literacy materials: magazines, notepads, books and markers so children learn how important reading and writing are to everyday life. Throw in an old checkbook and a child's calculator to promote math skills.

Make-believe play requires at least two people. So if a sibling or friend is unavailable, parents should step into the pretend world. "The child benefits from parents supporting the story," Samaras says. "My youngest has always liked to play dress up and pretend. She's a great storyteller - an academic skill she learned through play," she says.

For interviews, contact Anastasia Samaras at 202-319-5800 or 410-268- 7330.


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Revised: 27 October 1997

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The Catholic University of America,
Office of Public Affairs.