Dress-up play is always a fun activity for kids but it’s not just about letting your child run around in a costume, it also has a very important purpose in helping your child develop. Children throughout the ages have enjoyed dressing up in costumes and engaging in dramatic roleplaying. Whether your child is a doctor, a princess, or super hero, your child’s brain is going into high gear when they put on a costume. Although it may appear as just play, when your child puts on that cape, crown, or stethoscope, their brain is developing in more ways than you can imagine. There are many benefits to encouraging dress-up play and we are going to discuss exactly why it should be encouraged.
Why dress-up play?
Dress-up play is encouraged at schools and nurseries, which is why you will most always see a dress-up box in a classroom. Encouraging children to role play teaches them to socialize with peers, take turns, and co-operate with one another as they decide who is which character. Above all, fancy dress for kids allows them to let their imaginations run wild, which many suggest leads them to become great problem solvers as adults.
Creative thinking grows with practice and allowing your child to dress-up allows them to create various scenarios that require problem solving, such as figuring out how to defeat the villain or save the princess etc. Your child may create some scenarios that may not seem important to us, but to the child it’s an issue that has to be figured out immediately and will give them a sense of pride and accomplishment when they solve the problem and save the day in their imaginary situation. The best part? There is no right or wrong way to dress-up play, your child can be an astronaut doctor who is a part-time racing driver if that’s what they want to be.
How dress-up play can help children develop
Children benefit cognitively, physically, socially, and emotionally through dress-up play. Not only does it engage your child’s brain and memory, it helps them to build their vocabulary, as they can recall what they’ve seen or heard to add to their character, remembering how their mum behaves or a tv or book character they like. Children are naturally imitative, they learn about the world by imitating the lives of the adults and others around them.
Through dress-up and role-play, children can explore the lives of other people by imitating their actions, feelings and words. Your child will perhaps question you what certain words and phrases mean when recalling them from stories they know when trying to re-enact them, which could in turn lead them to adding new words to their vocab.
When a child is engaged in role play, it helps them to see the world through another’s eyes, increasing empathy and their understanding. Playing families and pretending to be a parent nurturing a baby, a doctor taking care of an injured patient, hairdressers, or cops and robbers, such forms of play can help children understand the roles different people play in our lives.
Children are constantly confronted with scary situations that they don’t understand through the news and tv or even witnessing an accident in real life. Children can process their fears through play, helping them to make sense of the world, and overcome their feelings of helplessness. By allowing your child to act out their fears through dress-up and role playing, we are helping their emotional development.
Dress-up can also lead to the develop of fine motor skills through putting on dress-up clothes, whether it’s velcroing a dress on, buttoning a shirt, zipping up pants, tying on a pirate’s bandana or their dads tie. Large motor skills are used when they are engaged in role-play, such as running when playing cops and robbers, jumping like a superhero, twirling like a ballerina or leaping like an acrobat in the circus.
When children choose costumes and characters to be, they are able to explore different gender identities and the behaviours of those characters. Boys often want to be astronauts, superheroes, or pirates while girls often want to be princesses, fairies or mermaids, but you should always encourage your child to dress-up as whoever they want to be. Do not ridicule your child for pretending to be a different gender role, it’s normal and healthy to allow your child to express themselves and be who they want to be and explore different gender roles.
How to encourage dress-up play
The simplest way to encourage dress-up play is to have plenty of supplies. Props, fancy dress costumes, tents, playhouses or even encourage them to build their own den or fort in your lounge to act as the location of their dress-up story. Boxes are another great prop that can be used for endless hours of fun as they can be turned into a car, a rocket, a house, even a castle.
Why not ask your child what he/she wants to be when they grow up? You can then encourage them to act it out, drawing out details and even give them scenarios and ask what they would do in response to the problems presented. If you really want to go all out put on some of the clothing yourself or wear a prop such as a hat or crown. Most pre-schoolers won’t need too much encouragement for their natural creativity to bloom and take over.
Store bought fancy dress costumes are great for dress-up play, as you can get costumes of your pre-schooler’s favourite characters, allowing them to act out scenarios using familiar settings and even sing songs they see on television or read in books.
But don’t underestimate the fun of using items from your own home as dress up play materials. Mum’s old dresses, dad’s hat, shoe’s and tie are all great items for the imagination and can give your little one a good giggle at trying on the oversized clothes. Just about anything can work though when playing dress-up.
The list is never-ending and ever-changing, so update and add as you like. Gather everything together, wash it if you need to and keep it in a central location, maybe in an old trunk or designated dress-up box. Keep it in the playroom or lounge or your child’s bedroom for easy access.