If play is truly the work of the child, then dress up play must be the ultimate job description! Imaginative, fantasy play is achievable when just a few props are thrown into the mix. At this time of year costumes and accessories are everywhere. I hope to encourage you to get that Halloween bin out early to take advantage of the enthusiasm kids have for fantasy play during the Fall season. (This post contains affiliate links for your convenience.)
Creative and open-ended play allows children the freedom to express their imaginations in a way that teaches the brain to be flexible. Fantasy play and imaginative role-playing are well established precursors to divergent and original problem solving later in life; skills that are well recognized in highly effective students. Children work out the stress and frustration of their day through this type of play, which can provide opportunities to practice communicating in challenging relationships from the adult world around them. An emerging understanding of conscience develops through dress up play, and studies have shown that children who engage in role play end up learning empathy (because they can literally imagine what it might be like to walk in someone else’s shoes).
Don’t forget that your child’s teacher will thank you too! Playing dress up provides plenty of unhurried time to practice tying bows, working with zippers and fastening buttons. Skills that are not always automatic for kids once they enter school. And all that symbolic thinking (using a blanket as a cape or a stick as a magic wand) leads to way bigger problem solving abilities in mathematics later on. The storytelling that goes hand in hand with dressing up (even if it is a familiar narrative from a movie or other media) is linked to greater abilities in reading and writing for years to come. Playing dress up flexes the academic muscles for sure, but also the emotional ones too. Teachers will appreciate your child’s social and emotional strengths that have come from learning to problem solve cooperatively, negotiate and make decisions in fantasy play.
My own kids are big on playing dress up. My oldest was Superman for the entire summer he was three. Slept, ate and played in that costume for longer than I care to reveal. While superhero play can sometimes be rigid and set in plot or story line, it allows boys, in particular, to experiment with power, control and right or wrong. In addition, superhero, police man or monster play includes an element of risky play that is just plain good for kids: jumping off beds, leaping across rooms and all that rough and tumble wrestling is known to actually help kids learn self-regulation. We purchase a commercially made costume for each child about once a year, around Halloween. The rest of the year, the kids make up costumes, mix and match from last year’s stuff or just invent what they need for the part they want to play. Face paints can add a real dimension of fun to the play too!
As for keeping it all organized? Soft sided bins make for quick access and easy clean up of accessories and costume bits and pieces. As you find fun items that could be used for dress up you can easily add to the pile without having to haul the “Halloween box” down from the attic. Keep the costumes handy, buy second hand throughout the year and ask for hand me downs from friends and family. When it’s time for clean up, just toss it all in the bin. And a tip from me: plastic grass skirts are an outside toy. Don’t say I didn’t warn you!
Don’t forget to check out my Pinterest page on Halloween ideas for imaginative and creative play: