Creating a Dramatic Play Coffee Shop in the Special Education Classroom

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Dramatic play is such an important skill for students to develop. It gets them interacting with their peers and it's a developmental skill that typically developing children pick up. By 18-24 months, children are often engaging in play where they are pretending to do things adults in their environment do. This skill is often more difficult for our students with developmental delays, so in my classroom it's something we TEACH our students.
While there are so many dramatic play activities kids like to engage in, I usually pick one and put together a dramatic play center in the classroom. We do some transformations (I'll share more in just a bit) in the classroom. The novelty of the transformation gets my students excited about engaging in dramatic play in the classroom. After we've made an engaging space for them to play in, it's all about making that play successful. I provide a TON of supports to help my students successfully engage in pretend play. I'm going to give you an overview of some of my favorite tools to help students learn to play.

Up first, the transformation. I'm not going to lie, I have a very creative paraprofessional in my classroom and I let her take on the transformation of our play area into a coffee shop. She handled the aesthetics while I worked on creating visual supports to help our students play and communicate in the center.

She wrapped a table and desk in white butcher paper, then hung green paper from the table. We added some letters and a HUGE coffee cup to the butcher paper skirt she made. After that, we got to adding the props our students would need to engage in the coffee shop play.


I love this coffee kit from Melissa and Doug because it's pretty durable and my students can definitely be rough on toys in our classroom. I also love that it has pods we can put in the coffee maker and pretend to make coffee. I came up with a quick order form for my students to fill out when they played the barista role. We set the coffee maker, pods, mugs, and sugar cubes up on the side of our table so students could practice making drinks for each other. My para also insisted on adding a blender so the students could make her a frappucino in the coffee shop. We also hung some aprons on the wall so we could dress up and play the part!

We added a bakery shelf next to our coffee shop and stocked it full of all kinds of baked goods so our students could practice ordering a sweet treat to go with their coffee. I also ended up putting together some printable food to add to our bakery shelf. This one was looking a little sad.

Now that we had the basics set up, it's time to teach our students how to play and communicate. I came up with a slew visual supports for my students to access while they played. Here are some of my favorites!

Order cards were perfect for my students to practice ordering drinks and snacks in our coffee shop. When they used these order cards along with a coffee shop script they were able to effectively play in the center!

Visuals to define roles while playing in the coffee shop were also important. We added picture cards of our students and switched between which students played barista and customer throughout the play rotation. We also ended up adding a cashier role a few weeks later so students would have a chance to practice another role!

Visual directions were a GAME CHANGER in our play center. The scripts we developed really helped our students communicate during play time, but once they ordered a drink or baked good from the coffee shop, we struggled to pretend to make those items. I developed some visual direction cards and we posted them on the wall for students. This addition helped the students expand upon their play skills in a whole new way! They were able to practice using the coffee maker in a more functional way and their play was really starting to develop!

I have some plans for some more dramatic play centers for the classroom, but I want to know which ones you've done or would like to see. Drop me a comment and let me know!

If you're ready to set up a dramatic play coffee shop in your classroom, check out all the visuals I developed to get you started here.

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