The Bridge School


Dramatic Play: Camping


The Dramatic Play area of the classroom evolves into a camp-site as the students are introduced to the camping experience through vocabulary development, storytime, and sharing. When everyone is ready to depart on the camping trip, a pretend car (the wagon) is packed with all the things they will need for the trip such as: a tent, sleeping bag, knapsack with cooking utensils, flashlight, etc. Children check out the map and drive off to the “campsite.” When they arrive, students choose to pitch the tent, search for firewood (sticks are placed throughout the room) and set up the cook stove. Sometimes the students like to turn out the lights and pretend it’s nighttime, crawl into the tent, and snuggle up on a sleeping bag. At the end of the week students roast marshmallows over a “fire” (5-6 candles placed in a ball of playdough) for a traditional camping treat. We set up the tent and campsite inside and also show how the tent can be set up outside for real life camping.

Standards and Goals

We use multiple tools in the design and implementation of our preschool curriculum. This activity is guided by:

  • Language Focused Curriculum for Preschool by Betty H. Bunce
  • The California Department of Education Preschool Learning Foundations
  • Desired Results Developmental Profile Access (DRPD-Access)
  • The child’s Individual Education Plan (IEP)

Language Focused Curriculum for Preschool by Betty H. Bunce (2010) serves as a resource for our staff in determining age appropriate expectations and a developmentally sound continuum of goals and objectives.

Learning objectives for all learners

  1. Use familiar vocabulary and learn new vocabulary
  2. Interact with peers
  3. Sequence familiar routines
  4. Expand conceptual knowledge of the world

Preschool Learning Foundations being addressed

The California Department of Education has adopted a set of learning standards or foundations that describe optimal growth, development and learning for all children and provides strategies for achieving each goal, best teaching practices and considerations for a well-designed educational environment. The Bridge School implements these standards in our preschool program. This activity addresses the following goals and objectives found in the California Department of Education Preschool Learning Foundations.

  • Self Concept 5.0
    • Initiative in Learning 5.1 – Enjoy learning and are confident in their abilities to make new discoveries although may not persist at solving difficult problems.
  • Social Interactions 2.0
    • Interactions with Peers 2.2 – Participate in simple sequences of pretend play.
  • Listening and Speaking 2.0
    • Vocabulary 2.1 – Understand and use accepted words for objects, actions, and attributes encountered frequently in both real and symbolic contexts.
  • Language Use and Conventions 1.1
    • Use language to communicate with others in both familiar and unfamiliar social situations for a variety of basic and advanced purposes, including reasoning, predicting, problem-solving, and seeking new information.
  • Writing 1.0
    • Writing Strategies 1.3 – Write marks to represent own name.
  • Mathematics
    • Number Sense 1.3 – Identify, without counting, the number of objects in a collection of up to three objects (i.e., subitize).
    • Measurement 1.1 – Demonstrate awareness that objects can be compared by length, weight, or capacity, by noting gross differences, using words such as bigger, longer, heavier, or taller, or by placing objects side by side to compare length.
    • Number Sense 2.1 – Compare visually (with or without counting) two groups of objects that are obviously equal or non-equal and communicate, “more” or “same.”

Additional objectives that may be addressed

  • Mathematics
    • Number Sense 2.2 – Understand that adding to (or taking away) one or more objects from a group will increase (or decrease) the number of objects in the group.
    • Number Sense 2.3 – Understand that putting two groups of objects together will make a bigger group.
    • Algebra and Functions 1.1 – Sort and classify objects by one attribute into two or more groups, with increasing accuracy.
    • Geometry 1.2 – Use individual shapes to represent different elements of a picture or design.
    • Geometry 2.1 – Identify positions of objects and people in space, such as in/on/under, up/down, and inside/outside.
    • Mathematical Reasoning 1.1 – Begin to apply simple mathematical strategies to solve problems in their environment.

The following objectives are addressed in dramatic play activities for more experienced preschool children

  • Self 5.0
    • Initiative in Learning 5.1 – Take greater initiative in making new discoveries, identifying new solutions, and persisting in trying to figure things out.
  • Social Interactions 2.0
    • Interactions with Peers 2.2 – Create more complex sequences of pretend play that involve planning, coordination of roles, and cooperation.
  • Listening and Speaking 2.0
    • Vocabulary 2.1 – Understand and use an increasing variety and specificity of accepted words for objects, actions, and attributes encountered in both real and symbolic contexts.
    • Vocabulary 2.2 – Understand and use accepted words for categories of objects encountered in everyday life.
    • Vocabulary 2.3 – Understand and use both simple and complex words that describe the relations between objects.
  • Mathematics
    • Number Sense 1.3 – Identify, without counting, the number of objects in a collection of up to four objects (i.e., subitize).
    • Number Sense 2.1 – Compare, by counting or matching, two groups of up to five objects and communicate, “more,” “same as,” or “fewer” (or “less”).
    • Number Sense 2.2 – Understand that adding one or taking away one changes the number in a small group of objects by exactly one.
    • Number Sense 2.3 – Understand that putting two groups of objects together will make a bigger group and that a group of objects can be taken apart into smaller groups.
    • Algebra and Functions 1.1 – Sort and classify objects by one or more attributes, into two or more groups, with increasing accuracy (e.g., may sort first by one attribute and then by another attribute).
    • Measurement 1.1 – Compare two objects by length, weight, or capacity directly (e.g., putting objects side by side) or indirectly (e.g., using a third object).
    • Geometry 1.2 – Combine different shapes to create a picture or design.
    • Geometry 2.1 – Identify positions of objects and people in space, including in/on/under, up/down, inside/outside, beside/between, and in front/behind.
    • Mathematical Reasoning 1.1 – Identify and apply a variety of mathematical strategies to solve problems in their environment.

Desired Results Developmental Profile Access (DRDP-Access)

This tool serves two purposes in the preschool planning process. It is used to monitor student outcomes and to inform curriculum development. As we rate the various measures or learning progressions, we can document the tools and supports being used to achieve progress. This activity addresses the following indicators from the Desired Results Developmental Profile Access (DRDP-Access).

  • Measure 8
    Definition: Child interacts with other children through play that becomes increasingly cooperative and towards a shared purpose.
  • Measure 16
    Definition: Child receives, understands, and responds to oral language that uses increasingly complex words, phrases, and ideas.
  • Measure 20
    Definition: Child pursues knowledge or understanding of new materials or activities.
  • Measure 21
    Definition: Child persists in attending, mastering, and understanding an activity of his/her choice in the face of difficulty or challenge.

Sample Individual Education Plan (IEP) goals being addressed for each activity/content area

  • Actively participate and communicate with peers and adults in specified number of pretend play contexts.
  • Engage in play representing real life events, perform actions with props, and play role.
  • Demonstrate 10 appropriate actions on/with objects in highly familiar adapted play or social routines (look at map, put wood in basket, then carry it and put on pretend fire, hold and point flashlight to find items, pack and unpack backpack, stir pot with spoon, pour soup in bowls, then pass to friends, pretend to eat with spoon, go in and out of tent, pretend to sleep on sleeping bag, etc.).
  • Reference locations, objects, people, or activities to communicate a preference, answer a question, or direct partners.
  • Use increasingly differentiated vocalizations, body language, gesture and/or a speech generating device (SGD) to make choices from familiar sets of up to three objects (sleeping bag, flashlight, cooking pot).
  • Give/share/pass objects to adults and peer partners in highly familiar adapted play.
  • Understand and express X number of words by touching/pointing objects, using gestures, manual signs, and light or high-tech SGDs with a desired degree of accuracy.
  • Use an increased number of photos, symbols, mementos for a variety of communicative functions.

More sample IEP goals

  • Make a choice given 2 items (e.g., cooking pot, tent) with increased consistency and assistive devices as necessary.
  • Select message on SGD or low-tech in two out of three opportunities in 3 class and/or play routines.
  • Demonstrate appropriate activities with toys that have different properties with increasing independence.

Materials and Preparation

Materials are carefully selected and the environment engineered to facilitate participation

  • One table is set up as the cooking area with a camp-stove and a pretend campfire.
  • Another table is used for packing backpacks with supplies.
  • A bulletin board sets the stage for the Dramatic Play Center and space is cleared to allow space for a tent to be erected.
  • Non-related materials are put away and shelves are covered.

Several steps must be taken prior to beginning this activity

  1. Clear the floor: Children have to be able to move around the area in their walkers in order to access the materials on the tables and get close to the tent. The children enjoy looking inside the tent as their friends are “sleeping in the sleeping bags” or playing inside and moving from table to table as their play requires. By design, children participate in their walkers. This allows them freedom to choose where they want to play, what materials they want to use and with whom they want to interact. Some children may need assistance as they learn how to maneuver in and out of the tent and around the tables.
  2. Highlight props: We choose tools, toys and props that appeal to young children to populate the campsite. A colorful, simple pop-up tent sets the stage for the “experience”. A lantern with an accessible on-off switch provides the light inside the tent and around the campfire. Real camp pots and pans add to the cooking experience and real maps are used to navigate to the campsite. The children like to use real flashlights and other objects that adults use. Our classroom staff work collaboratively with consultants, such as an occupational therapist (OT) and a vision specialist (VI), to select and adapt materials and activities.
  3. Reduce clutter and crowding:Designate areas for different activities. One table is for cooking at the campsite.Another table is set up for packing the backpack to go on a hike. Children enjoy moving between the areas in their walkers as they play with the various pieces of camping equipment.
  4. Setting the stage: No campsite is complete without a tent. We purchased an easy-to-assemble pop-up kids’ play tent so that the children can help open it to set it up. They love opening the flap to look inside and once inside, they can peek out the window as well. We put a gym mat on the floor underneath the tent for padding and sleeping bags inside.

Cooking at the campsite.

Packing up the backpack and going on a hike.

Abigail and Jet relax in the tent!

Basic props for camping

  • Tent
  • Mat to put under tent
  • Sleeping bags
  • Real or pretend camp stove
  • Pots and pans, bowls, utensils
  • Things to cook: can of beans, toy vegetables, etc.
  • Backpacks
  • Maps
  • Flashlights
  • Lantern
  • Toy cell phone
  • Toy or real camera
  • Firewood for pretend campfire

Optional props may include

  • Sticks for marshmallows
  • Coolers for play food
  • Water bottles
  • Toy or real binoculars
  • Wagon to carry gear

General responsibilities of adults in preparation for activity

  • Determine layout of tables and pathways and set up in advance. Test the layout by moving walkers and wheelchairs through space to ensure children will be able to move to activities with support as needed.
  • Set out props, toys in advance. Have baskets or bins available so you can clear tables if they become too cluttered or some items need to be adapted. We put baskets under tables out of sight.
  • Make, print and laminate overlays for AAC devices.
  • Record or program messages on AAC devices.
  • Make labels, charts, checklists, and other print displays to refer to when playing.
  • Go over plan for play so adults have an idea of how to get started. In the beginning of the week designate a staff member to be the play leader. That adult stays in the Dramatic Play Center to orient children, to get them involved in play and helps assign roles so children learn to take turns in the new activity.
  • Supportive walkers will need to be available. Work out how to arrange walkers in the classroom and set up, in advance of Center Time if possible, to ease transitions.
  • Familiarize staff with switches on students’ walkers so they can attach and set up Step-by-Step™ switches and other AACdevices, record messages and trouble-shoot.
  • Keep camera handy for photo opportunities to share with families and to use in communication books.
  • Send a note home in advance, asking families to share any of their child’s experiences related to camping.

Instructional Plan

Dramatic play unfolds in phases with students participating at various levels concurrently, depending on their individual experiences, abilities and background knowledge of the theme.

Phase 1: Introduce the theme

Dramatic play is child-centered but adults need to provide an orientation for the children.

  • Teacher takes an active role. They show the play theme, demonstrate what to do, point out the props, and show children a section of a book or story related to the theme.

In the story, Just Me and My Dad, by Mercer Mayer, children learn about Little Critter’s camping trip and are introduced to the idea of sleeping in a sleeping bag, sleeping outside in a tent and using lanterns and flashlights once it gets dark. If children like the story, teachers can encourage children to pretend they are a character in the story and act out main events.

  • Refer to children’s personal experiences. Parents are encouraged to provide stories that children would like to share with friends and teachers. This student brought photos from a camping trip to share and his family recorded a message on a Step-by-Step™ for sharing (a show and tell activity). Teachers added photos and captions in his low-tech photo book so he can share what he knows about camping across different activities, such as story time.

Abigail and Jet read about a camping trip.

Ms. Caitlin points to the tent in the story.

Adam shares his camping trip with the class.

Phase 2: Encourage pretend play

  • Teacher establishes camp theme and simple “plan” for play: e.g., “I’m going camping and I need to get some supplies” or “I’m camping and I need to cook dinner.”
  • Invite student to participate. Initially the teacher may assign roles: “Now we’re in the tent just like Little Critter, can you pass out flashlight, map and binoculars to your friends?” or “we’re camping and it’s dinner-time, can you make some beans over the camp fire?”

Phase 3: Facilitate play with objects

  • Model actions: Show how to use toy or tool such as opening the map and looking. Demonstrate action, such as: adding items to a pot and stirring. Use simple phrases and statements to describe play and actions. For example, “(students’ name) is the cook, ____ is cooking dinner over the campfire!”
  • Encourage student to perform actions with objects in play: Students put items in a pot or items in a backpack, hold flashlight and lantern, look at map, hold camera and binoculars, and pretend to rest on the sleeping bag, etc.

Can you pass out the flashlight, map and binoculars to your friends?

Abigail is cooking the beans over the campfire.

These students learned to work together to gather firewood to make a pretend campfire. Firewood was placed within reach around the room. Students walked around to find, pick up and carry wood back to the campsite. One child had a basket looped through the chest strap of his hands-free walker to carry things.

Phase 4: Sustain interactions

  • Offer opportunities and motivation for a student to request ‘do it again’: Students will like certain actions and will want to repeat them. When teachers pay attention to student’s interests they can extend play and offer more opportunities to address communication and language targets. Model request after a student smiles or concentrates intently on some action, then ask: “Do it again?” Model by using AT to demonstrate request to ‘do it again’.
  • Build in motivating opportunities to request ‘more’: Students will want to use ‘more’ of some objects (flashlight, sleeping bag, binoculars, cellphone). Label objects and actions a student is interested in and ensure those objects are placed so student can refer to them (reaching toward, looking at) during play. Provide simple AT to request ‘more’ and then student can use choose from play materials with gesture.
  • Provide authentic opportunities to use assistive technology/AAC to gain attention and direct attention. Phrases like, “Look what I’m doing” and “Watch me!”, allow students to secure a partner’s attention and draw other partners into play or for conversation. Provide a means for student to tell about what they are doing by gesturing to the pot they are stirring or using communication displays to share.
  • Once activity is established ask open-ended questions like, “What should we do now? What’s next? What do you think?”. Interpret student responses (eye gaze, reaching, looking), model and offer AAC tools.

Pacing: The dramatic play activity is designed to extend over a one to two week period.

  • Students need the time and experience necessary to enjoy and actively participate in dramatic play scripts. Staff should identify communication functions and script dialogue targeted for role-play.
  • Repetition of activities over time is useful to allow students sufficient time to handle, use and investigate materials and to try new activities as well as to allow teachers time to develop adaptations to allow children to be more independent and self-directed.

This student loved sneaking up and opening the tent flap to see the person inside. He enjoyed using his voice or using a different vocalization to surprise teachers and friends. He learned to use a switch with a Supertalker™ (hooked on his walker) to tell friends and teachers that he was a wild animal and then made the animal sound.

Jet uses a simple SGD to choose ‘more’.

This student liked pretending to go to sleep in the tent on the sleeping bag.

Abigail tells the group what she’s cooking over the campfire.

This student points to the tent to direct his friend to open the flap and go in.

Phase 5: Keep the fun going

The following is a sample pace of play over full week


Show students the available props. Work with OT and VI teacher to adapt materials and activities over the week. Provide roles for interested students and guide play by giving student a simple plan of how to participate. Provide some phrases to develop script. Include other students as they come over to see what the fun is all about. Students can show what to do and new student gets a quick turn. Identify fun actions or silly sounds to encourage taking turns and sustain interactions. Provide assistive technology with familiar phrases/vocabulary used across activities for requesting toys or turns, gaining attention to manage and negotiate during any play activity. Phrases like, “What are you doing?; Can I help?; What’s that?; I like that.; I want to do something else.”, are especially useful in beginning a new play theme, while focus of attention is often on new tools, toys materials and students.


New materials continue to be the focus. Children need time learning about each new item and new role and trying them out for themselves. Continue providing roles. You could present a simple storybook, such as Camping Out by Mercer Mayer, in dramatic play to provide a sample of a structured script. Students could be encouraged to act out a page, like a scene in a play. Share children’s personal experiences with camping theme by showing, reading, and posting notes from home.


Focus on taking turns, using all communication modes including AT with different partners. Show and model simple AT displays such as low-tech books. Encourage students to take many turns. For example, the campers may be playing the role of cook and need to make lunch for all the teachers. In order to get the teachers involved, the cook must call each one in turn to join in the play and offer them something to eat. You may include a visual scene, such as page from a commercially available children’s word-book, used as communication display. Teacher can refer to familiar objects on display, such as a backpack or sleeping bag, while having soup.


Encourage student to pick a role for themselves and for teachers. Provide time for students to examine the visual scene and offer a chance to look for materials, compare, and/or ask, “What’s that?”, while playing.


Continue or offer variations for playing camping. Follow the student’s interests. For example, one student liked pretending to be a wild animal so we all played being animals as well as campers in the woods. We also pitched our tent outside and played camping outside to get a more real life experience.

Responsibilities of adults to support students in dramatic play activity

  • When Center Time begins, help children pick out their own supportive walker and assist in transfer to walker, allowing children some active participation in transfer process (leaning forward, signaling when ready to be picked up). Follow the protocol or guidelines established by the OT and assistive technologist for placement, equipment and use of the walker.
  • Encourage children to move to different center areas. Be an enthusiastic cheerleader to help get them motivated to explore and try activity. Allow time for them to watch what a peer is doing. Model asking for a turn and ensure that the child has the appropriate AAC tools to participate.
  • Once a child picks an activity, bring the appropriate AAC device to the area. Positioning self, child, play materials, and AAC tools is a challenge. You may need to take it slow, ask for help, work with OT, VI, PT. Keep play and work surface as clear as possible so child can orient and focus on materials (put extra materials under table). Bring AAC device out and place where the child has access. You may need to experiment to find the best side to sit in relation to the child. Notice if the child is straining to see or turn. Be ready to re-position child so they can orient to peers.
  • Demonstrate activity alongside child by modeling. Give a simple brief explanation of how the child can participate in the activity (show more than tell about), offer child turn before interest fades then try to keep it fun. You can take turns alongside child if child seems to enjoy the activity. Try using similar adapted materials and tools, including AAC tools.
  • Encourage children to show and share what they are doing with teachers or peers. Be ready to stop the activity for children to show work to new people. When they notice someone new and want to greet them, provide access to AACtools to get attention and tell others, “Look what I’m doing.”
  • Follow the child’s lead. Provide opportunities for child to request more of something fun, even if it is not the main point of the activity. Notice if the children are not engaged and offer a choice of different materials. If the children are beginning to reject activity, indicate that it’s time to finish and do something else.
  • Interpret children’s communication signals and provide AAC tools for them to share what they want to say.
  • If an activity is engaging and children are participating, get a camera and take some photos or ask someone else to get a few photos. These can be used later as a topic of discussion, a writing topic or to send home to parents to illustrate the days’ activities.
  • Make a note of tools that are effective and tools that are challenging for children. This is valuable information for the OT and the assistive technologist as they provide support for access to activities.
  • Watch the time and be ready to give a five-minute warning. This prepares the children for the end of one activity and the beginning of the clean up time.
  • Be prepared to find a gentle end of a fun activity (“Ok, you can do it one more time.”)

Monitoring Progress

Evaluation Method: Observation

The template below is an example of a data collection tool that might be used to document a child’s progress toward the goals and objectives identified for implementation. We select the long-term goals and short-term objectives (STO) from the California Preschool Learning Foundations and the Language Focused Curriculum for Preschool by Betty Bunce. Each child has an individual data collection template with the goal and short-term objectives, criteria for achieving success and estimated time to completion included. The template indicates which activity will be the most relevant to gather data regarding the goal and objective (Centers, Morning Group, Snack, Music, Sharing Time). For example, the X indicates that observations related to this goal will be collected primarily during Centers.

Data Collection Template


Student will engage in pretend play representing real life events, and will perform actions and make statements that are consistent with pretend roles, that are accurately sequenced, that use real or imaginary props appropriately, and that have been adapted for access (at least 7 new play contexts over the reporting period, with 1-2 peers), given adapted seating systems and supports and tools for independent mobility and access to materials, as measured by classroom staff-collected data and parent report.



Morning Circle




Measurement procedures

Documenting that a student has achieved a particular goal or objective is critical in the educational process. At The Bridge School we find that documenting how a student achieves the goal is also vital to our planning and implementation of an effective intervention for our students. Tracking the number of play themes introduced over the reporting period coupled with the data collected, guides us as to how many themes can be introduced, the level of engagement obtained and the student interest and engagement in each. The comment portion of the data collection form can also include the level of support required, preferences for activities and effectiveness of props. The following is an example of the information we collect to guide us in this process.

Measurement Procedures Template

Measurement procedures, track number of play themes introduced over reporting period. May note level of support, preferences for activities and props in comments.





Pizza Place

Student is encouraged to try all roles associated with pretend play themes. Student enjoyed making, selling and buying pizza. Student used the Tobii™ and VMax +™ AAC devices this report period to take turns with peers and direct teachers.



He liked playing pilot by dressing up, pretend to drive airplane, stick, rudder, wheel props were preferred! He followed a script to tell passengers what to do, like “buckle your seat belt”, etc…



He took many turns with peers on group building projects for Construction theme, this was a theme with lots of movement and action: getting, carrying blocks in basket, stacking blocks then knocking down. Building stamina for walking and gaining proficiency turning in hands-free walker!


Movie Theatre

Student liked many aspects of the movie theatre theme. He took turns buying and selling tickets and snacks. He brought a movie from home to show and tell about with friends and enjoyed watching his friend’s movies (clips were shown). He used AAC device to share comments (e.g., like it, love it, funny, my favorite, I want that, I don’t know, What do you think, etc.). More interest in making comments and asking questions in this activity w/ familiar and novel media.


Low-tech AAC/AT may include

Photo book

Customized photo book with children’s personal photos and stories. Children can share their experiences related to the theme.

Commercially available children’s books used as vocabulary display

Large see-and-find books can be used as a low-tech communication display.

Simple Voice Output Communication Aid (VOCA): Cheap Talk 8

Script for Camping

  • Hi.
  • Let’s go camping!
  • What’s in the backpack?
  • Let’s start the campfire.
  • Time to cook dinner.
  • Guess what I’m doing.
  • Want to play?
  • Time to go in the tent.

Script for Cooking

  • I’m cooking dinner!
  • Put it in the pot.
  • Let’s mix it.
  • Want some?

Mid-range VOCA: Go-Talk™

Example audio phrases/statements that can be pre-recorded

Resources and References

Amory, H. The Usborne First Thousand Words (Revised Ed.). Tulsa: Educational Development Corporation.

Mayer, M. (2000). Just Camping Out. New York: Golden Books, Inc.

Bunce, B.H. (2008). Early Literacy in Action: The Language Focused Curriculum for Preschool. Baltimore: Paul H. Brookes Pub. Co.

California Department of Education Preschool Learning Foundations –

The Desired Results Developmental Profile (DRDP) Access –

Easy to assemble pop-up kids play tent like this one: