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A New Narrative for Dramatic Play in Early Years

Inspiring Creativity with Aesthetically Engaging Global Photography 

Our learning community had been exploring ways that symbolic languages are a means of expression to be enjoyed. The children often chose dramatic play materials to communicate ideas about stories and role play. We noticed that although we purposefully provided non-gender specific resources including diverse fabrics, belts, scarves, beads and other open-ended materials, the play narrative often manifested itself with a predictable text, i.e. beautiful princess gets rescued by a stronger boy in a classic struggle of good and evil. In other words, the narratives felt familiar, like the children were going through the motions of a children’s film with the script written by someone other than the protagonists of our own classroom, the children.  We wondered how we might support the children with developing more complex characters and encourage them to cultivate their own original ideas about their play stories. The teachers offered to the children alternative images from a more global perspective as a provocation.

The children chose from a range of images illustrating tribes people from across the world. We viewed the work of photographer Jimmy Nelson The children described the person they had chosen, creating a character profile.

Building on the children’s background knowledge about stories, narrative and expression, as well as previous experience working with a wide range of art materials, it was proposed that the children use a design process to create a character figurine of their chosen person. The class researched fabrics and costumes from around the world for inspiration. The children then created and carefully executed their individual design plans. As a learning community, there was abundant thoughtful peer feedback which many integrated as they moved forward with their designs. Throughout this process, the children considered the character of their figure, and how this might transfer into a range of storytelling experiences.

Image above: Planning the clothing for a wooden character doll. Teacher annotations from an informal interview with student.

Finally, the children used their own bodies, by using materials, jewellery and props in creative ways as they physically transformed themselves into their character. This final expression was captured using photography.

The photographic images offered a challenge to the notions of beauty, strength and power we initially observed in the children’s interactions. The beauty of the photography was naturally compelling to the children and that came through strongly throughout the proposals. Through the language of drawing, design and dramatic play, the children constructed meaning about characters in narratives with a richness we had not seen earlier. This translated into more original narratives in the children’s storytelling in play. They eloquently and passionately wove the characters’ strengths, traits and dispositions into spontaneous dramatic play as well. Attachments and moral dilemmas went beyond good princess/ bad guy and instead collaboratively constructed complex narratives. There was also a more open-minded perception of what fabric/costume combinations were interesting to the children.

N’s Character Profile of the Original Image

“I like them. They are warriors. They are bad guys, they want to steal. They are fighting by the waterfall. They have so humongous hats. Giant ears. They are people of nature. They live in Australia. For the costume I need some yellow.” 

N’s Reflection of himself as the Final Character Photograph

“I like to be my character. He have a blue feather and a red feather. I had my tummy out. I like my picture. He’s a warrior. He likes fighting. He likes to sit in water, because my real person that I made is sitting in the water as well.”  

Original image:

N’s Character Profile of the Original Image

“I was attracted to the colour, that’s why I chose this one. She lives in the jungle. This is a dress that goes around her to keep her toasty and warm. One handle (sleeve) is short. There’s a red skirt, because it’s so warm in the jungle. A blue strap. She has a jacket vest. The design has holes are where the arms go through. It wraps it around, when it is closed. There’s jewellery necklaces all the way up (her neck). The circle things are bracelets on each hand, they go around the wrist.”

N’s Reflection of herself as the Final Character Photograph

“I liked the bracelets around my face. I liked everything. She has so much necklaces. She is a princess. She is kind, nice, strong and clever, and so sweet. She is from India.”

Original image:

Y’s Character Profile of the Original Image

“He is a warrior. I choose it because it is red. He has some shield. This is his triangle spear. He has a thing on his face. He have necklace (design). The colours of his clothes are pink/red t-shirt and tights. He don’t have shoes. He lives in the mountain.”  

Y’s Reflection of himself as the Final Character Photograph

“I like the belt, and dressing up. I like the shield because it is so cool. He is strong. He is brave.”

Original Image:

V’s Character Profile of the Original Image

She is a princess with flowers in her hair and a big beautiful dress. She has a crown and then flowers on top in her hair. She has a heart necklace, and some earrings. The hair is going to be long. It’s going to be beautiful.” 

V’s Reflection of herself as the Final Character Photograph

I like the grass in my hair and the leaves, also the animal print.”  

Original Image:

Y’s Character Profile of the Original Image

“I want to make joou-sama (a queen – in Japanese), with a rainbow coloured skirt. Her shoes have rainbow colour and when she steps it shines. She has trousers as well, and the colour is pink. She lives in Japan. 

Y’s Reflection of herself as the Final Character Photograph

She is a kind girl. She is a queen, and she wants to be a teacher. At home she knows how to look after her little sister and her little brother.”  

Original Image:

N’s Character Profile of the Original Image

I made the man that lives in a cave. Inside is hot. His jacket can make me cold or warm, it’s yellow. He goes out and he goes to a cold place, he plays in the snow. He has a family, a big one.” 

N’s Reflection of himself as the Final Character Photograph

I look like a man in a hill. A man that likes to be brave. He collects horns. I like the horn in my picture.”  

Original Image:

S’s Character Profile of the Original Image

Red, white, some black and green colours. The gold (decoration) nose ring. She is a queen. She has a skirt on her head, and a dress.” 

S’s Reflection of herself as the Final Character Photograph

I like this how I do my hands. I like the clothes, all (of) the costume. I like my smile. She is nice.”  

Original Image:


M’s Character Profile of the Original Image

He is a sword fighter, because there’s a sword in his hands. There’s a beard. There’s a red thing almost reaching his nose. The t-shirt is nice. It has different shape of jewellery. On his head he looks like wool, but it’s a hat. He lives in a cave with his family.” 

M’s Reflection of himself as the Final Character Photograph

I like my photo because of the sword. I like swords. I look like a musician.”  

Original Image:

C’s Character Profile of the Original Image

I was thinking I like the ones that come from China. I chose this one because I like the little ring up her nose and the flower in her hair. I even have earrings. She has beads for earrings. I guess I need to bring my whole pack of beads, (and decide) if I’m going to use string or wire (for the jewellery designs). She wears some flowers and little lanterns in her dress. She has a hoodie like a jacket. She’s a hunter, she looks for bears. She has a triangle on a stick, it’s really sharp.” 

C’s Reflection of herself as the Final Character Photograph

I like the necklace at the neck. I like the decoration (bindi), it looks like a seashell on my head. Also I liked the crown.”  

Original Image:


As an international school, we actively seek to provide opportunities for children to engage with and discuss images that not only represent the diversity of our community of learners, but also support thinking and explorations that encourage open-mindedness and support an understanding of, and respect towards the perspectives held by those engaged in dialogue.  The children’s work around characters, based on images they had taken time to consider, challenged the conventional notions of beauty, strength and power. The transformative process of becoming the character invited the children to embrace the possibilities that their character offered them – more than just the costume, but a deeper and more innate sense of connectedness to the wider global community.


Produced in collaboration with the children of EY2, Andrea Mills (EYC Atelierista), Victoria Newman (EYC Coordinator), Janet Cooper and Chiga Schochet (EY2 Teaching Assistants). 


  1. Jeanette

    Another truly beautiful piece. The depth of understanding the children showed as they all constructed their new thoughts and feelings about beauty, power and strength in a truly global sense is inspiring. Once again I am left with a full and happy heart after reading your words that transport you directly into this wonderful experience! Thank you.

  2. Michele

    In International schools we talk about developing Global Citizenship and many teachers in the early years wonder how to authentically support young students to develop the dispositions to become a Global Citizen. This inquiry is a beautiful and inspiring example of how a group of educators working together can provide the materials, images and opportunity for young children to explore beauty and connection to such a wide array of cultures. Thank-you for sharing and inspiring other educators.

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