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Date: May 25, 2024

Exploring Powerful Learning Through Domestic Role Play

Young children have a natural interest in their own lives and their own circle of experience. They will often seek out opportunities to play imaginatively with familiar contexts, exploring the relationships between key people in their lives and the actions that surround them on a daily basis. This powerful drive to learn about their own lives through role play underpins our key advice that domestic role play needs to be a key area of learning in every EYFS setting and should be available consistently throughout the year. Carefully considered domestic role play, and the sensitive, skilful adult responses leading from this, offer meaningful learning experiences built on children’s natural interests.

Providing a rich learning experience through domestic role play requires careful planning with each available resource earning its place within the area. Let’s start with the continuous provision. Alongside the kitchen, with a range of pots, pans, cutlery and utensils there also needs to be a detailed approach to what else is on offer. If materials and resources are going to be available consistently, throughout the year, they will need to offer a depth of possibilities. A kitchen clock, a calendar, a kitchen timer, weighing scales, a cookery book, clothes for washing and ironing and real tinned or packaged goods will get you off to a good start.

Effective planning for a domestic role play area will also take into account how resources and materials will be carefully introduced at different points within the year, for maximum impact. The Nursery team at Bincombe Valley Primary School in Dorset have been exploring just this, how sensitive introductions to experiences in the domestic role play can lead to wonderful and meaningful learning possibilities. Here’s Amanda Belbin, the Nursery Leader at Bincombe Valley, to explain the background to their work and also what this looks like in practice.

Domestic role play has always been a part of provision in the various Early Years settings I have been in over the years, but recently has been an area that I have developed further and the journey has been so worthwhile. I have always believed in the use of real resources and this was reflected in the Domestic Role Play I set up. Real plates, real packets of food and everyday kitchen resources were available. As a setting we ensure that the children spend the majority of their time accessing continuous provision. We use an ‘In the Moment Planning Approach’ and develop learning through high quality interactions. A change in our approach to this area of provision came after attending an Early Excellence training session. A discussion took place around Domestic Role Play and how important it was that every item earned its place and that children knew its purpose. This got us thinking in more detail about how the area was set up and introduced to the children. Over the following weeks and months, we continued thinking about this and it began to shape our practice and ethos.  Our journey over the following year was so exciting and it unfolded in such a natural and authentic way. One step seemed to lead to another. Here I will share the first part of our journey this year with our new cohort of children. 

Our Domestic Role Play Area (called ‘The Kitchen’) is located in a corner of the Nursery and adjacent to it is the play doh area. The dough area has cookery books and baking resources available and children will take their creations to the Domestic Role Play to share and ‘eat’ with their friends. The tables located immediately around the area are also used when the children have their lunch. At lunchtime we also use the table in ‘The Kitchen’ for children to eat. We have found that thinking very carefully about the location of this area has helped enhance its use and gives it real purpose. It is a place the children want to be and they are engaged and purposeful. The Kitchen is equipped with a cooker, fridge, table and four chairs, sink unit and shelving unit. We have a set of real plates, bowls and tea cups, cutlery, tea towel, tea pot, toaster, phone, clock and toy vacuum cleaner. We also have several tinned items, butter and milk containers. This will be added to as the year progresses.  

As the term began and the children arrived one of our first tasks was to involve the children with ‘moving in’ The items had been packed into moving boxes and the children had great fun opening the boxes and placing the items on the shelves. We talked about the size and weight of the boxes, a great deal of perseverance and collaboration was required to move and open them.  This process allowed us to introduce the names for all the items and discuss what items might be used for. The children developed ownership of The Kitchen and treated the resources with care and respect. Over the following days and weeks, we made sure that an adult was available to support and model tasks such as making toast, tea and washing up. Using the butter pot and knife to pretend to spread butter on the toast became a common sight and groups of children would sit eating their ‘toast’, chatting happily.  

One morning the learning naturally moved on. I was sitting eating the toast I had been supplied with and I asked for jam. When the answer came that we did not have any I raised the question ‘oh I wonder what we can do then because I really like jam?’. Very soon after this several children were helping me write a shopping list of favourite toast toppings.  These were then purchased and added to The Kitchen. Children continued to explore mark making by writing their own lists.  

Recently we have added a shop in close proximity to The Kitchen. It is called Home Bargains as this is the shop that children are familiar with in the local area. They recognised the sign immediately. The children have spent time purchasing items from Home Bargains and then taking them back to The Kitchen to use. They have spent time looking at the labels on the packaging, exchanging money for items.  The eggs went in the fridge, egg cups were supplied for boiled eggs and soldiers. This week we have talked about the need for a washing machine because one child bought some washing machine tablets but then realised, we didn’t have a washing machine in The Kitchen. Our next step will be to supply some photographs of washing machines and then ‘order’ one, wait for delivery and then talk about washing clothes.  

So far, our journey this term has provided amazing opportunities to develop the Characteristics of Effective Learning and support development in all areas of learning. Levels of engagement and involvement in that area of provision have been high. As our journey continues this term, we intend to very gently enhance provision with items that will stimulate interest whilst following the children’s lead.  

Amanda Belbin
Nursery Leader, Bincombe Valley Primary School

What a fantastic start to the year! We love the idea of ‘moving in’ to the domestic role play area as a way of introducing the space and taking ownership of what goes on there. What a perfect way to explore children’s real- life experiences. As you can see, the domestic role play at Bincombe Valley is a carefully planned continuous provision area where staff are constantly reflecting on how the children’s conversations and interests will shape how the area is enhanced. This has already led to lots of powerful and meaningful learning experiences. We are already looking forward to hearing how the space develops, Amanda will be keeping us up to date with developments as the year progresses. Watch this space!

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Role Play Resource Collection 5-7yrs

Developing a well organised domestic role play area is vital for supporting young children’s learning. If you are looking to plan your domestic role play, download our Planning Guide

Download Guide

Explore our Inside Out pack of support materials for the Domestic Role Play Area with practical advice, training videos and inspiration to help you make the most of your role play provision.

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Domestic Role Play

For tips and ideas on establishing meaningful and quality domestic role play that remains in place all year, join our on demand webinar –  Explore Powerful Learning Through Domestic Role Play Recording 

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