By Wendy Priesnitz
Dress-up play isn’t just fun for little kids, it’s an
important activity where they use their imaginations, build vocabulary
skills, gain confidence, and more. With dress-up play, a child can be
anyone she likes, from a superhero to a doctor, a baker to a fashion
model. Yes, even a princess or a frog.
Dramatic dress-up play is roleplaying and storytelling
that helps children develop ideas about how the world works. When they
strap on a tool belt, they are trying to figure out what it’s like
to be a construction worker. Or they put on your high heels and
skirt, and grab some props like a purse and a doll, acting out what they
think it’s like to
be a mommy. And there are many other benefits too.
Gross motor skills will be developed when your child
uses large muscles running and jumping, casting a line like a fisherman,
running and dodging like a football player, or leaping like a dancer.
Dramatic play also allows children to practice fine motor coordination
by buttoning a jacket, tying on an apron, fashioning a cape from a piece
of material, and so on.
Dress-up play encourages interaction and
communication with others. It often becomes cooperative as your child
interacts and communicates about what their doing. Role playing
encourages teamwork and an interest in other children and what they’re
thinking and doing. Kids learn to negotiate in this way, to collaborate,
take turns, and create and play by the rules. There is also research
that has linked role play to empathy: Kids who engaged in it were more
skilled in judging how other people might feel than those who didn’t
role play as much.
Since role playing usually includes pretend conversations – solo or with
others – you will often hear your child using accents and other verbal
inflections that they imagine will help them become the person they are
dressed up as. This is a great opportunity to develop communication
skills. Second language learners especially benefit from this
One mom I spoke with said that her two taught themselves to get dressed
– shirts on the right way, shoes on the right feet, buttons and zippers
done up – because one day she was baking bread and couldn’t help them
with their dress-up costumes right away. In some role playing
situations, children pretend to do household chores, like vacuuming,
cooking dinner, and taking care of pets. They also try out jobs,
learning more about them along the way.
Stretching the Imagination
One of the big – and most obvious – aspects of dress-up play is that it
uses a child’s limitless imagination. By imagining themself to be
someone different, a child develops their creativity. Using different things in
new ways – pretending a piece of cardboard is a sword, a colander is a
hard hat, and a long skirt tied at the bottom is a mermaid’s tail –
flexes those imagination muscles.
And imagining yourself as a superhero is a way to feel powerful in a
world where everyone seems to be controlling the agenda and telling you
what to do and how to do it.
By dressing up as someone else, children build confidence in themselves.
This is an important aspect of growing up to be a secure, emotionally
healthy adult. And by encouraging and facilitating role playing, we can
nurture that confidence and help them understand that they have the
ability to be anybody they want and accomplish anything they desire.
Working Through Experiences and Emotions
When they are in their own little make believe world,
children can feel safe enough to explore their emotions. They can use
dress-up play to make sense of the world by acting out and working
through an experience they have had. So when your daughter pretends her
PJs are a doctor’s scrubs and checks her doll’s heartbeat
using a pretend stethoscope, she might be reliving something a bit scary
that she has experienced in real life. Pay attention to these situations
because your child’s dress-up roleplaying can be a window into their mind
and give you clues to what is bothering them.
Encouraging Dress-Up Play
You can buy dress-up kits for children, including
Halloween costumes. But I think it’s much better for their imaginations
(not to mention your budget) if you collect items from your home or the
local thrift shop to outfit your family’s dress-up trunk. Here are some
ideas for items that can become something else:
sunglasses and regular glasses with the lenses removed
hats and long gloves
aprons and towels
scarves and shawls
purses, briefcases, luggage
tutus or dance costumes
Role playing is an important part of children’s
growth and development, as well as in their role identification as they grow
into adulthood. So help them dream their dreams and let their imagination kick
into high gear.
Wendy Priesnitz is the founder
and editor of Child's Play Magazine.
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