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The Importance of Dress-Up Play

Children live through the world they experience first hand. They are constantly taking in and processing all of the micro moments that happen throughout their day. They are playing out what they see on a consistent basis or researching something they saw for the very first time. When children are given the time, space and materials to dress-up, they are living through all of their experiences and trying out what feels good to them. They are looking to make sense of their world. While dressing up, children are not only enjoying these excitable adventures, but all areas of their development are building as well.  

Here’s what happens when a child engages in dress-up play: 

⭑LANGUAGE: Language development is budding! Their vocabulary is developing. They are gaining more words and phrases throughout each dress-up session. As their receptive (what they understand or think) and their expressive (what they express or say) language continues to grow, they are able to share stories that they have witnessed or created. And, they are gaining a better understanding of the world around them. When children work with open-ended dress-up materials, such as play silks, they are more likely to narrate their problem-solving process. You can challenge them by saying, “It looks like you’re preparing to cook in your very own restaurant. How will you use your play silk to become a chef?” 

⭑COGNITIVE: Not only is their brain expanding, but they are forming memories. They are noticing the actions of others, recalling details that they see, and solving problems that arise in their world. They are coming up with an idea or a story that they want to execute. Children will simply do what feels intuitive to him/her. Through dress-up play, children become the directors of their imaginations. One moment your child may use a simple cape as he or she zooms around the house, pretending to be the world’s greatest superhero. Minutes later, this same cape can be placed on the floor to become an inviting picnic blanket!

⭑PHYSICAL: Both fine motor skills (small movements) and gross motor skills (big movements) are hard at work here. As they are putting on and manipulating costumes and props, they are using their hands to velcro, tie, button, zip, pull, place, move…. And they are using big body movements to jump, run, twirl, dance, hop and so on! Depending on the scenario, children’s movements will vary. They will move through their story line as they wish, simultaneously strengthening their motor development. 

⭑SOCIAL: Children love to imitate what they see through talking, feeling, and acting. They are rehearsing cooperation, negotiation, flexibility, how to take turns, and how to sit with disappointment. They are practicing role playing as they take on different characters, examining the different characteristics these characters possess. They are learning how to be around others, how to read cues from their peers, and how to work among a group.

⭑EMOTIONAL: Learning how to regulate emotions is key and, as described above, children are learning by putting themselves in other people’s shoes. They are gaining an understanding of what empathy is as they work through situations they’ve encountered in their daily experiences. They are learning about themselves, their likes and dislikes and even their unknowns! Dressing up creates a safety net and a web of imagination to take them where they want and need to go. They can be anything, try anything, do anything! While dressing up, they are able to work through their emotions which aids in regulating and building their emotional development.

Looking for some dress-up play inspiration? Check out the Rose & Rex Dress-Up Collection here.

About the Author

Hannah Ruppel has been an early childhood educator since 2009. She received her master’s in general and special education from Fordham University and holds an Early Childhood American Montessori Society (AMS) credential. Hannah is passionate about wellness, creating non-toxic home and learning environments, and sharing her knowledge of mindfulness to young children and their families. She wholeheartedly believes that when we instill our kids with the vital tools they need across all areas of their development, they are better prepared to take on anything as they change and grow! She recently moved to Shelter Island, New York with her husband Tyler and two boys. They enjoy cooking, playing outdoors, and seeking new adventures.

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