Learning Through Play. Continuous Provision – Imaginative Play/Role Play

Whenever children play, they are learning. By supporting play, through free access to toys and resources (continuous provision), we value children’s individual styles of learning and enable their imaginations to flourish.  

Looking around our settings, you will see many resources always available as part of our continuous provision that support imaginative, pretend and role play. These include small world toys such as wild animals, Happy Land, baby dolls, dinosaurs, farm animals, fairies, trains, also bricks and blocks, bikes and trikes, blankets, transport, props, dressing up, and a wide range of craft resources.  

Imaginative play is so important, a child flying a toy aeroplane around the room, driving their tractor up the wall, building a camp from pegs and blankets, or ploughing their tractor through the mud. In each of these they are accessing their imaginations, allowing their minds to go beyond the known to test what might be possible.  

This freedom of expression is why adults observing and tuning into the children’s pretend play can provide vital opportunities to gain knowledge about each child, that we may otherwise have been unaware of.  

The continuous provision enables children to access resources and explore concepts at a time and in a way that they need to and that they choose, without limitations imposed upon them. It is not reliant on the involvement of an adult.  

Example 1. A child is in the role play area, they pick up the telephone in one hand and hold a pencil in the other over a clipboard with paper on it. “Hello… yep… ok. So, they stole your telly? Yeah? How do you know? Ok I need to write this down.” The child puts down the phone onto the table and says as they mark make onto the paper, “he had brown hair and a blue shirt.” Picks up the phone again, “Yes, right, I written it yeah. When we ‘rrest them they going to jail for 500 years. Ok, bye!” Puts down the telephone. 

Children often play at what they know. The role play or home area allows children to re-enact and begin to make meaning of the familiar. Children can explore a vast range of emotions through taking on a role. They are also free to explore concepts they may have overheard in the news or adult conversations. 

Role play and pretend play are safe ways for children to explore on their own terms. The child in example 1 may have recently experienced a break in, for themselves or a family member, they may have watched a programme about people who help us featuring the police, they may have a relative in the police force or they may simply be immersed in role play. By listening to and observing the child playing with provision of their choosing, the practitioner can fine tune their response and future enhancements to support further development.  

Whenever children say, ‘let’s pretend’, a new landscape of possibilities is revealed. When children pretend, they try on new feelings, roles and ideas. They stretch their minds along with their imagination.” – Deb Curtis & Maggie Carter 

Example 2. Two children arrive at nursery and enthusiastically greet each other. Child 1 (C1) says, “You’re here today! Now we can play superheroes!” They head to the dressing up and begin to rummage through the various resources. They see some capes and masks.  
“I’m going to have the blue one” says C1.  
“I’m going to be orange” says Child 2. “On my TV it had a fire on it and the animals were trapped inside, we need to rescue them! But it is a long, long way away for 50 minutes.”  
“We can fly there, it’s ok” replies C1, “let’s go! To the rescue!” 
And both children lift their arms and begin to fly around the garden. They fly to the shelf where the wild animals live and ‘land’. 
“Here they are C1! The animals are here! Quick, the fire is coming!” 
Child 2 has found a cardboard box in the junk modelling box to use as a crate for the animals. “We need to put them in the crate so they don’t get fired and die! Let’s get out of here!” 
C1 and C2 scoop up the animals and throw them in the box. “The fire is coming; the fire is coming!” 

With our oldest children we begin to see more sophisticated words and ideas when role playing and pretending, they come up with scenarios and negotiate the rules between themselves. The children need to work with their peers to agree on imaginary scenarios and decide who will play what role. This requires communication, collaboration, compromise, and imagination, but can sometimes generate frustrating feelings. The continuous provision ensures that there are plenty of resources available to support children to navigate through these situations in a developmentally appropriate way, strengthening children’s interpersonal and social skills. 

Continuous provision supports the development of a babies’ imagination allowing them to experiment with objects, sounds, sights, activities. A baby might bang together two objects exploring what will happen if she does, or he may like to open cupboards and drawers with curiosity of what he may find inside. They live in their own world of possibilities.  

Example 3. A baby sits with a basket of heuristic objects. She puts both hands in to the basket and pulls out a string ball which she studies and drops. She watches it roll towards the shelves and notices a little pig on a shelf. She reaches for the pig and places it on the floor. She reaches into the basket once more and removes a scarf placing it beside the basket, inadvertently covering the pig which she feels through the material of the scarf. She looks around, “What did I feel? Where is the pig? Why can’t I see it? Is it under here? Is it over there? Can I lift the scarf?” 

Through continued reflection and development of strong continuous provisions, we empower every child with possibilities, limited only by their imagination.  

Next time…
Learning Through Play. Continuous Provision – Communication and Language