Using Play to Teach about New Events

New life events can be scary for young children.  Using play to help teach children what to expect can be an effect tool to help the children be more successful and help improve a child’s language skills at the same time.  Here’s how to use play to teach about new events.

Being able to play is an integral part of language learning. Children learn how to relate to the world by reenacting events while playing. That is why you often see children playing “kitchen” or playing with dolls. You may even hear children reenacting events that had happened during the day. Ever hear a child reenact an argument they have heard. As such, it is an excellent way to teach new routines for children (click here fore more information).

Teaching routines is also essential for children, especially children who have language delays. They allow children to predict what is going to happen, which can reduce some anxiety children may feel. Ever go to a country where you don’t speak the language? You may feel more comfortable if you go to a restaurant and order a meal (the routine is relatively familiar) than having to take a bus (the routine may be very different).  

Because routines are consistent and predictable, it allows children many opportunities to practice. As a result, routines allow children to learn new vocabulary and how to relate to others in that specific situation.  

As such, teaching children what to expect by making a play routine out of a new event can be useful when getting ready to go to a new event — for example, teaching children what to expect when going trick or treating, what to expect when you are part of a wedding, what to expect when going on a vacation, what to expect when going to a sit down restaurant etc. For this post, I’m going to use trick or treating, as it is coming up. 


1. Gather the materials that you will need to play.  Find different costumes so that the child or children can use them to get dressed. Pull out out Halloween bags and something to represent candy. I have used very colourful paper scrunched up into small pieces.  

2. Get dressed in the costumes. Let the children pick what they want to wear. If you are at home, you can use their own costume. Don’t forget to get dressed yourself. Most likely, the costumes won’t fit you, but you can wear hats.

3. Gather your bag and pretend to knock on doors (I usually knock on a table) and say, “Trick or Treat!” If you are home, go to different rooms in your house. If you have another child or adult playing, you can have them hand out the treats. Then practice saying, “Thank you!” and move on to a new house. If you are working at a daycare or a preschool, this makes a great centre.  

4. Once the child is used to the trick or treating, then try to have them be one handing out candy, a role they may play if they do not go out or have already been out.

Do I only use dramatic play to help teach about these new events? No, but it is an integral part of the process. I also use stories about the event to help show the sequence of events.  If you are looking for some additional activities to help practice trick or treating, try this activity from Teachers Pay Teachers I have used it in addition to the dramatic play centre.  

Here is a collage of the "Knock Knock" language supports.

Will this eliminate the nervousness and behaviors during the actual event of trick or treat? Probably not. There are different variables that we wouldn’t be able to reenact during the actual event, but it may help reduce it and allow the child to have a more enjoyable and successful event.

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