Dress Up Day…..Everyday!

Halloween has come and gone.  All the sales have pushed the last of the spooky merchandise out of the stores.  Although it sends a shock through my whole system, I actually heard “Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer” being piped into the overhead speakers of my local grocery store two days ago.  We adults have moved on to planning for large family gatherings over the next few months.  Our children, however, are likely still eager to play at that Halloween specialty: dress up.

As is evidenced by the number of children still running around in their Halloween costume, children between the ages of two and five love the opportunity to dress up and pretend they are someone else. The staff at Harley Hopkins Family Center especially delight in watching children create different games for themselves using the very simple props and costumes provided in the classrooms.  This is referred to as dramatic play–taking on roles they see in the world around them and “trying them on”. We wanted to share some of the emotional and social benefits of being allowed to dress up and play–everyday.

  • Children are able to work through themes or events in their lives–happy or sad.  For instance, a new baby in the house or going to the doctor or the death of a pet
  • Dramatic play with others promotes social interaction: cooperation, problem solving, understanding rules of play, conflict resolution
  • Develops a child’s imagination and creativity–they can create a new world out of the simplest props
  • Dramatic play suits them developmentally–they are looking to gain a sense of power over their world–and for this brief amount of time they are able to BE the parent, or the fire fighter, or the superhero
  • Children of this age are often clueing in to our culture’s messages about gender. Dramatic play allows them an outlet for exploring what being a girl or boy means to them. Pay careful attention to this sort of play, and be sure to create an environment that supports your own values around gender identity
  • Dramatic play creates an opportunity to explore different occupations
  • Children practice their language skills and build their vocabulary as they generate plots in their play
  • Children continue to develop their fine and large motor skills and self-sufficiency skills through dramatic play–putting on all those different outfits is a real muscle control exercise
  • It’s Fun!!
Speaking of fun, parents should work to get involved in the play also!  Spend some time pretending to be in the circus with your young child, and you will get a sense of why they enjoy it so much. In addition, feel free to work together with your child to make the props that will be involved in your household dramatic play. Use items that have no further use in your home to create something out of “nothing” with your family.  These props won’t be perfect, but they will certainly be valued by your children. A favorite item in our house for a long time was the homemade car made out of all the recyclables that had been waiting to be disposed of.  The car is made of cereal boxes, plastic containers, soup cans and a large box that held our last computer (and lots of tape).  The items used to spark imagination do not have to be expensive or have lots of gadgets and lights.  Often the simpler items allow your child to shape the item into a prop for the game–rather than needing to shape the game around an item that could only be used for one purpose.
Where can we go to get some of these simple items?
  • Day after Halloween sales
  • Pieces of fabric from the remnant bin at the local fabric store–silky flowy fabric often works best, with a wide variety of textures and colors
  • Garage Sales
  • Our own clothes closet or linen closet or jewelry box
  • Look through the box of stuff you were going to donate
  • Grandparent’s house
  • Hardware stores or dollar stores or surplus supply stores
  • Go through your kitchen–tupperware, pots, pans, wooden spoons…a cupboard full of musical treasure
  • Share with a friend–create a dress up box with items from above. Exchange boxes
Allow your child to be self directed in this sort of play. They are using dress-up to try different roles–they are not becoming permanently fixed to one particular role. Create a play environment that encourages a shifting from one role to another. Offer props that allow your child to play in a variety of ways–even if they have a tendency to always pretend to be the same character.  Rather than trying to actively shape the environment, take a step back and instead observe what they are creating with the simple props you have provided. This is when we have the opportunity to better understand what they are experiencing and processing from the world around them.

The early childhood staff of Hopkins has a deep respect for the social, emotional and even academic benefits of play.  When encouraging dramatic play, the message that they often want to convey is best summed up by the paperwork they already often post in the play areas of the classroom:
Acting things out is a way that young children have of thinking about the events and people in their lives. In the same way that they need to touch, taste, and “mess with” things in order to understand them–pretending is a kind of “messing with” the things they notice about how people behave. They explore feelings and actions that are reassuring and also those that worry or frighten them. Imaginary play happens everywhere–with dolls, trucks, blocks, clay lumps or no props at all.
Enjoy the pretending, enjoy the play, enjoy the magic that surrounds the youngest child!

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