Don’t Get Dressed – Dress Up: 5 Benefits of Dress Up Play
In the morning my children stumble, bleary-eyed to the couch. They pile under blankets and insist, with their eyes still closed, that they are awake. They’ll happily watch some television or listen to music, content to slowly welcome the day.
However, as soon as I say to them, “Time to get dressed!” their eyes pop open. Their immediate response: “Where are we going?” The thing is, they know that if I’m asking them to put clothes on, we must be leaving the house. School, playdate, appointment – these are things that require getting dressed. If we’re staying home, they aren’t getting dressed – they are getting dressed up.
I’d say that dressing up, and the imagination boosting play that follows, constitutes about half of our daily play time. All three children will happily spend hours changing costumes, digging through the bins of clothes to find the just-right thing for their latest character. Sometimes the games are fully interactive, with each of the kids playing a role and working with the other two in their imaginary scene. Other times they’ll each be on their own adventure – rescuing animals, performing on stage, or taking care of babies are popular themes.
To say that I value pretend play would be an understatement. Along with reading, I think it is the most important thing that my children do with their time. So I relish the days when we don’t start with getting dressed. Getting dressed up is just as important.
Just some of the benefits of dress up play:
- Collaborating and compromising. My six year old yearns to be the star of life in general. She wants to call the shots, steal the spotlight, and make the rules. These imaginary scenarios help her to learn to give up control and allow her siblings to share the stage. Taking on the role of baby or student allows her a chance to practice being a listener instead of talking over others. At the same time, it challenges my shy son to step up and make his own decisions, a change from his usual tendency to let his sisters call the shots.
- Creative thinking. We’ve got a great stash of costumes, from princesses and police men to random collections of hats, shoes, bags, and glasses. They find different outfits to suit their needs, using basic things in unusual ways. They’ll make connections to familiar things – “Look, these glasses look like Geegee’s. Why does she wear glasses?” – and we can talk about careers, clothing, and the way things work.
- Communication skills. Their story-based play helps them to focus on language. They begin to understand the elements of storytelling (what happens first, second, third?), they try to grasp and understand various emotions (building empathy for others along the way), they challenge conventions (why can’t a boy in a princess dress be a super-hero puppy?).
- Life skills. They learned to dress themselves mainly because they hated waiting for me to help them with costume changes. They learned to clean up so they won’t lose any of their treasured costumes. They pretend to complete chores, like vacuuming, cooking dinner, and taking care of pets. They also try out jobs, learning more about them along the way (What else does a secret agent do? Do they always wear black? Are they good guys or bad guys?).
- It’s FUN! Their play is full of giggles, screams, and silliness. They build forts, construct restaurants from the stuff in the pantry, and attempt to sneak quietly into their parents’ room (always a big fail – they can’t be quiet). It’s so much fun, that sometimes they get everyone in on the act. In any given week I get to be a queen, a monster, a patient in a doctor’s office, a superhero, and a dolphin trainer. I sometimes think it is too bad life isn’t always that exciting, and then I realize that, for them, it is.