Take a velvet robe, add a football helmet, or a floppy summer hat and let your imagination soar. Dress up and role playing fosters creativity and empathy and helps children grow physically, socially, emotionally, and intellectually.
First you’ve got to get the costume on. Dressing up is a chance for young children to practice basic skills like pulling arms through sleeves and slipping shoes onto feet. Buttoning a button and tying a belt require fine motor skills. Strutting around pretending to be a king, twirling like a dancer, and crawling like a cat, develop muscles and balance.
Social and Emotional Development
When you dress up in a costume you take on a new identity and a new perspective. What does it feel like to be a carpenter, or a giraffe, or a daddy? Children act out skills and problem solve situations, such as a firefighter racing to put out the fire or a baker mixing ingredients for a birthday cake. When children play dress up together they learn to negotiate, take turns, and help each other: “First, you be the bus driver and I’ll be the rider”. And who doesn’t get a little boost in self-confidence while wearing a super hero cape?
Intellectual and Language Development
I like the green skirt. Can I try the felt hat? I am wearing three necklaces. Words for colors, numbers, sizes, and shapes are inherent in dress-up play. Children use early math and science skills as they sort items that go together and associate objects with different behaviors. A pretend ice skater needs a winter hat. As children get older they make up stories about what’s happening, try out new vocabulary, and experiment with different vocal patterns, making sounds like a monster or imitating how the dentist talks when she examines your teeth. When children engage in dress up play they use abstract thinking and memory.
Dress-Up play at home
Encouraging dress up play at home is easy. Look in your closets and drawers for things that haven’t been worn in a while, or that bigger kids have outgrown. Choose things that come on and off easily, like vests, drawstring pants, and slippers. A piece of cloth or a towel can become a cape or a skirt. Paper crowns, beads, and ribbons will jazz up all sorts of outfits. Add accessories such as scarves, hats, and gloves. To organize your dress-up supplies, you can start with a simple cardboard box or a laundry basket. If you want to get fancier, install a coat rack with hooks to hang items.
Dress-Up at the Museum
Dress to Express is a program that happens most Friday mornings at Boston Children’s Museum. We pull out our giant dress up bin, set up clothes racks and mirrors, put on some music, and anyone can drop in and participate. You can stay for a few minutes or an hour. There are dress-up materials in other Museum exhibits as well, such as hard hats, safety vests, and tools in Construction Zone; dinosaur costumes in Explore-a-Saurus; and toddler-sized animal costumes in PlaySpace. In some spaces we have adult-sized gear so people of all ages and sizes can take on a role and play together.
So grab a feather boa or a football jersey. You look fabulous.