literacy in learning centres

Symbolic Play Centres Infused with Authentic Literacy Opportunities

Learn more about dramatic play centres and find out how to vary them throughout the year, while including picture books and recording sheets that provide authentic reading and writing opportunities.

Dramatic Play/ Pretend Play/ Symbolic Play... imaginative play where children take on roles and interact with each other, as a means of learning about the world around them.


While engaged in symbolic play, children explore and develop all five domains of development:

Physical and Motor Development- Strengthening fine motor skills while manipulating toys (ex. dressing a doll, using tweezers to remove a splinter from a stuffed animal, scooping ice cream, etc.)

Emotional Development- Building self-confidence as the child engages in diverse, positive experiences and explores his/her autonomy.

Social Development- Creating connections with other children, suggesting play ideas, and resolving conflicts.

Language Development- Interacting verbally and expanding his/her vocabulary as new theme words are learned.  Pretending to read and write through playful, authentic experiences. 

Cognitive Development- Activating his/her imagination, using reasoning skills, and exploring concepts related to arts, science, math, etc.

For more information, view this PowerPoint: Observing children's development in the context of symbolic play  by Sarah Landry, Ph. D.


A home dramatic play centre is a great centre to have at the beginning of the year.  All children can relate and can take on familiar roles of parents, grandparents, caregivers, siblings, babies, etc.  Props such as blankets, plastic food or food containers, a kitchen, tables, chairs and baby craddles can enhance the area.  *Keep in mind that neutral props like items from nature (pinecones, acorns, etc.) or recycled objects make great props as the children can imagine the items being anything of their choosing.  Consider adding board books for children to read to the dolls. 

As the year progresses and children develop new interests, consider changing the centre to spark creativity and offer new opportunities to learn about the world.  Discuss possible options with the children and have them help coose the next theme.  They can also brainstorm what props should be included in the centre and could help gather or make some materials.  

Other ideas for symbolic play centres:

Veterinary clinic


Possible items to include:

  • stuffed animals
  •  books about veterinarians or taking care of pets such as A Day in the Life of a Veterinarian by Heather Adamson or Puppy Care: A Guide to Loving and Nurturing Your Pet by Kim Dennis-Bryan *Remember that non-fiction books often have great photographs that the children can "read".  
  • medical supplies (plastic or real) such as stethescope, tweezers, thermometer, otoscope, etc.
  • rubber gloves
  • masks (label each as Dr. ___, with child's name, then enclose in a small ziploc bag with child's name to prevent sharing and spreading germs)
  • rubber gloves
  • bandages and cotton balls
  • food for animals
  • kitchen sink for "washing" animals
  • brushes and pet grooming tools
  • telephone and note pad for booking appointments
  • computer or cash register for paying
  • x-rays of animals (you can search online for animal x-rays and print them on acetate sheets that can be held up to a window or placed on a light table)

Use a recording sheet similar to this for the children to help them go deeper in the play, do thorough checks of the animals, and explore print:

(Click on the image for a printable version.)


grocery store



florist shop

post office


Ice Cream Stand

Possible items to include:

  •  books about how ice cream is made such as Milk to Ice Cream by Inez Snyder
  • ice cream scoops
  • bowls and spoons
  • small orange sport cones/pylons that can be used as ice cream cones
  • rolled up balls of colourful socks to be the ice cream balls
  • cotton balls, small gems and decorative plastic confetti for sprinkles and toppings
  • signs made with the children to advertise what is for sale
  • cash register and money
  • paper and pencils for taking orders (or see sheet below)

Use a recording sheet similar to this for the children to help them go deeper in the play, keep track of orders, and explore print:

(Click on the image for a printable version.) 

Suggestion: Print 4-6 sheets and laminate them.  Children can use whiteboard markers to record, and the sheets will  be reusable.