Dressing up to play
Most children love to dress up… A tiger, a superhero, a mum, a doctor, a magician… you name it, they can become it in the blink of an eye with the magic of imagination and costumes, and there are so many reasons to include dress up items in your child’s play space.
Toddlers and young children are still developing their cognitive and motor skills, as well as problem solving and social skills such as sharing, taking turns and working together with others. Dress up play is one way for little ones to explore all these things at once while having fun.
Items with buttons, ties, velcro and zips all support the development of fine motor skills, while placing a hat on their head or twirling like a ballerina is a chance to hone those ever developing gross motor skills. As children begin to master these things, their confidence and sense of independence flourishes.
Fostering independence and creating a safe space for children to learn practical skills is a big part of dress up play. As adults we are of course there to assist the little ones in our lives with every day tasks, but it is also important that we provide chances for them to build independence and strengthen their self-help skills.
Costume play provides an opportunity for children to choose a character or dress up theme that appeals to them, and is a relaxed and fun way to explore the practical skills needed to dress themselves independently, away from the pressure of trying to get ready and out the door to play group or kinder on time. When children have a say in what they wear and how they wear it, they feel confident in themselves and begin to develop their own unique sense of identity which they will carry through childhood and into the rest of their lives!
I have worked with children for most of my adult life, and over the years I have seen the impact that dress ups can have on children’s confidence to try something new, talk to their peers or play independently when they hadn’t previously felt comfortable doing so. It is quite amazing how the opportunity to take on a role or character and explore being someone or something else, can give children the confidence to just be themselves!
Although it is used consistently through all kinds of play, when children have access to a range of dress up items and costumes, their imagination comes to life! Through this type of imaginative or role play there are endless options, children can become who or whatever they choose. And while you can get some truly wonderful “themed” costumes for children, dressing up is not just limited to miniature doctor’s scrubs, or glittery tutus and fairy wings. There are plenty of “real world” options to add to the dress up box, such as glasses, hats, scarves, ties, and bags. These regular items that have no particular theme or occupation tied to them allow children to form their own story and become whoever they wish!
Imaginative play and dressing up provides endless fun, but it can also be very serious business for children! Perhaps their favourite dress up item is being used by someone else, or is in the wash. Both siblings want to play the doctor… but who will be the patient!? Superhero cape was left at Grandma’s house, what could we use to make one? When faced with these sorts of challenges, children have the opportunity to problem solve and come up with a solution that allows them to play out whatever their imagination desires. Any sort of play with others, whether it be siblings, peers or adults, allows children to build on social skills such as sharing, listening, communicating, waiting, working together and so on.
Since there is so much to gain from including a range of dress ups and costumes in your children’s play, here is a list of some ideas of items to start off or add to your collection….
Jewellery - bangles, necklaces and rings
A wand, sword or cape
Headwear - different kinds of hats, glasses, headbands, crowns or tiaras
Skirts or dresses
Fairy or butterfly wings
Scarves, ties and bow ties
A button up shirt
Start small and build based on your child’s interests and development, and don’t be afraid to think outside the box - scour local second hand shops for clothing and accessories, or get creative and make a cardboard sword or bottle-top necklace.