The very young human brain is really wired to embrace a world of make-believe. Dress-up is an ideal way for young children to work on so many early childhood development skills: literacies, life skills, and creative play. Playing dress-up as a child is something of a rite of passage.
Holidays like Halloween that seem straightforward on the surface, can actually have an interestingly positive developmental impact on children. Children can feel powerful and brave as they begin to understand what power feels like through the magic of dressing up.
Think of how many adult costumes we wear to represent some meaningful activity: wedding attire, sports outfits, prom dresses and tuxedos. When we put on these kinds of costumes, we often feel a sense of power as well as connection that boosts our self-esteem and brings us happiness.
Dress up play, especially superhero play, will always have its place in the lives of young children, with the strength, speed and bravery of superheroes attracting and inspiring our children building their self confidence along the way.
Working in children not a day goes by that we don’t have a superhero in our building. Celebrate and appreciate how wonderful it is to be a child dressed up and living the superhero life
Are Halloween dress ups appropriate for young children?
They don’t have to dress as something scary. Let them dress up as anything they like!
Many parents struggle with the concept of Halloween. While young children look forward to dressing up, parents worry about what is considered “too scary” for their child. Some feel that children can differentiate between fantasy and reality while others feel it is best to shield them from scary costumes and frightful settings. What is considered “too scary” actually varies from child to child.
The National Association for the Education of Young Children recommends watching out for the child’s reactions to potentially scary images and situations. Pay attention to what they seem worried about, avoid or talk about, which can be clues that something is scary.
Managing fears is a way for young children to develop important emotional regulation skills. With the support of a caring adult, children learn to manage their reactions to emotions. It is helpful for a child to draw pictures or be able to talk about their fears with a trusted adult. Picture books that show characters fearful of something but then are able to find ways to deal with their fear can be very helpful to young children. It is important that a child’s fear and worries are acknowledged and respected, no matter how irrational they may seem.
Young children do have the ability to distinguish between fantasy and reality, some more than others. They can tell whether an apple is real or plastic, and they can distinguish between a crocodile that is real and one that is wooden. Even so, they still may need gentle reminders that what they are seeing is not real.
Top tips for navigating Halloween with young children
- Tell children what to expect when visiting a potentially scary setting. Avoid protecting them too much and providing too much information. This can take the element of surprise out of the adventure, which is part of the fun.
- Let children use their own imaginations to design and make their own costumes.
- When you see potentially spooky things, gently remind your child that it is not real, only imaginary.
- Visit a pumpkin patch. Once home, allow children to design their pumpkin carving and have an adult carve for them. You can use stickers to decorate a pumpkin if you don’t want to cut one.
- Allow little fingers to get slimy and remove the insides of the pumpkin, as this will strengthen the small muscles of the fingers (fine motor muscles) and the large muscles of the arm (gross motor muscles). In addition, exploring with their senses (smelling, feeling, seeing and even tasting pumpkin) is how young children learn.
- Roast pumpkin seeds together. Scooping, measuring and counting are all great activities that build towards a strong math foundation for the future.
- Let children see people putting their costumes on.
Building self-confidence through dress up play
Up until the age of eight or nine, children spend a great deal of time being highly imaginative. The very young human brain is really wired to embrace a world of make-believe. Obviously, children and adults can be quite imaginative, but for the younger child, the line between real and imagined is blurred.
It can be healthy for children to express some of their fears as well as some of their needs for being super strong and powerful when they dress up in some kind of costume.
Having opportunities to experience these emotions can build self-confidence as a result of experiencing the power of the persona they are embracing through the costume.
As children develop, they become aware of how little power they actually have in a world run by adults. By becoming a character of something they have feared, they can feel like they are overtaking and in control of those fears by assuming that feared persona.
Even though children obviously are not powerful, they can feel so as they begin to understand what power feels like through this sort of artificial experience. So, it turns out that holidays like Halloween that seem straightforward on the surface can actually have an interestingly positive developmental impact on children.
After all, think of how many adult costumes we wear to represent some meaningful activity: wedding attire, sports outfits, prom dresses and tuxedos. When we put on these kinds of costumes, we often feel a sense of power as well as connection that boosts our self-esteem and brings us happiness.
Benefits of Playing Dress-Ups
What did you pretend to be when you were a child? A doctor? An astronaut? A parent? Perhaps you pretended to be a paleontologist, wearing a camouflage vest and digging up dinosaur bones.
Playing dress-up as a child is something of a rite of passage. This childhood pastime is very common. Dress-up is an ideal way for young children to work on so many early childhood development skills: literacies, life skills, and creative play. Variety of physical, emotional, cognitive, and sensory exercises involved in play. From buttoning a jacket to negotiating roles and engaging in teamwork, learning opportunities abound.
Dressing up is a form of imaginative play — and imaginative play boosts problem-solving and self-regulation skills. Kids create situations and scenes and act out social events. They’re able to test out new ideas and behaviours in a comfortable environment.
Dress-up encourages creative thinking and communication skills. It also helps children practice language development and their social skills. Playing with another child or adult requires teamwork, cooperation, and sharing.
The act of putting on and taking off costumes or outfits also has physical benefits. The buttons, zippers, and snaps on clothing encourage the development of fine motor skills.
Children can stretch their imaginations through different identities and occupations in dress up and practicing their gross and fine motor skills.
Children playing dress up often represent their career aspirations or role models and ideals. This can be vital to their understanding of themselves and their dreams and goals. When children imagine themselves to be someone else, they learn about their likes, dislikes, preferences and how they like to interact with others.
While playing dress-up, a child’s imagination knows no bounds. Kids create their own universes and realities, make up scenarios and explore how they would perform in them. They can even get creative with their costumes, like when playing fashion dress up games. Rudolf Steiner, who founded Waldorf education, said that imaginative play in a child’s early years is instrumental to the development of creative thinking in their adult years.
When children play dress up games together, they learn to communicate and socialise. These games promote cooperation and children often have to figure out how to take turns, negotiate and agree on rules and stories. This will also teach them to respect others’ choices and opinions.
When children play dress up, it gives them an opportunity to step into another’s shoes, see life from their perspective, emulate their emotions and understand their situation which develops their empathy. For instance, when your child roleplays as a doctor, it can teach him to care for and help other people.
Dress up play may seem perfectly simple but it engages your little one’s memory and brain. It requires your child to remember how they have seen the person they are representing behave, the way they speak and other details of their life, whether they are imitating a real person or any fictional character. They have to recall details of their lives and act them out.
Role-playing and dress up can help refine your child’smotor skills, as they will be imitating the actions of the character they are representing. They will jump and run like their favourite superheroes, dance like princesses and fight like warriors. Dressing up and putting on buttons, pinning capes, tying laces or attaching velcros on costumes will also improve coordination.
When children role-play their characters and act out scenarios, they have to imagine what their characters would say. This helps expand their vocabularies as they will try to recollect words or phrases they have heard their character use, whether it be from reality, or books, televisions shows and movies.
When children are imagining and acting out scenarios that their characters are a part of, they are able to imagine how they would behave in that situation and how they would process it. While acting out an operation as a doctor or a rescue as a firefighter, they are able to overcome fears and feelings of helplessness and become emotionally mature.
Children are not limited by gender roles while playing dress-up. Girls can dress up as warriors or princesses and boys can dress up as fairies or superheroes. When children explore other gender roles, they obtain a better understanding of gender identities and behaviour.
There are always problems before and while playing dress up, like deciding which story to enact, who plays which character, and the various problems that the characters encounter in the story. This helps develop a child’s problem-solving ability and analytical thinking.
Get involved in the dress up play yourself
There are numerous benefits to playing with your children. Parents are able to offer insight and guidance, but can also learn from stepping back and allowing their little one to direct the play. The act serves as a bonding experience and builds your child’s self-confidence.
Children feel a special connection to their parents when they play in this way. You may recognize your own mannerisms or habits in their pretend game (when they dress as a parent and sip their pretend coffee while they tell their doll, “Please give mommy a minute to think!”). You may also discover new interests or skills that they’re working on through play.
Top tips for dress up play
- Have a designated dress up bin
- Budget costumes by creating your own
- Pyjama section in most stores has dress up qualities, they are comfortable to wear and are easily cleaned.
- Let them wear them in public.
- Take photos
- Towels and scarves can be used as capes
- Funky sunglasses
- Costume jewellery
- Old clothes, especially outsized one, my daughter wore her dad’s work uniform for Halloween one year.
- Visit the salvo stores, they are treasure troves
- Rotate items frequently (hide the inappropriately warm dress ups during the height of summer)
- Old jackets can be a doctor’s coat or fireman’s gear, and a plastic bowl or colander makes a great helmet.
- Cardboard boxes can be used as boats, cars, buildings, or even a house.
- Stuffed animals can be used as patients at your little one’s vet clinic or students at their school.
- Empty food boxes or canned goods and a calculator can be used to play store.
- Old baby gear can be used to play family or day care.
- Scrap paper and pencils are helpful for writing notes, making play money, or taking restaurant orders.
- If you do find your little one has a favourite dress up, go get more. You can wash one and let them wear the other.
- If they can’t live without their favourite dress up but more in the next sixes.
- Wash your little ones favourite dress ups at night when they are asleep.
- In cold weather put normal clothes on your child and pop the dress up over the top. They still get to wear it but they won’t get cold.
Is it appropriate for young children to dress up as superheros?
Superhero play will always have its place in the lives of young children, with the strength, speed and bravery of superheroes attracting and inspiring kids.
Children love to dress up as the superheroes they see in cartoons and movies and while it may look like pretty simple play from the outside, it’s actually an important part of early learning.
Dressing up as a superhero is a form of imaginative or dramatic play in which children use costumes, figurines or other props to imitate the characters they admire.
It comes about from children’s exposure to television, DVDs and computer games and sees the child acting out what they have seen.
We can help children to learn the rules of engagement for superhero play, which is an important part of growing up.
The benefits of superhero play
Superhero play can be beneficial because it helps children work out the issues of good and evil, power and subordination.
Superhero play gives kids the chance to pretend to be strong and invincible, encourages them to make new friends and helps them develop an identity outside of real life.
It can also help children explore moral values and dilemmas and to establish what they and others perceive as right and wrong.
Superhero play supports children in their quest to meet future challenges in the world and allows them to demonstrate strength in their hearts and souls.
It gives young children opportunities to build self-confidence and reduces tension associated with stress.
Superhero play can help spark our kid’s imaginations, it can inspire physical games and activities and it can help children feel less scared of the unknown.
Super hero play offers a way for children to experience a sense of personal power.
Top tips for superhero dress ups
- Point out the differences between good guys and bad guys. Children don’t necessarily distinguish real people from fictional characters so it’s useful to point out “good” characteristics such as kindness and helpfulness.
- Teach children the difference between rough and tumble play versus aggression. Falling over, gentle wrestling and hitting without hurting is fun rough and tumble, while threatening, humiliating and real hitting is aggressive.
- Encourage children to practice conflict resolution and heroism.
Kids College Philosophy
‘We run a play based program to provide the best environment for learning and providing the most stimulus for brain development’
‘Our educators respond to children’s ideas and play and extend on children’s learning so that each child’s agency is promoted enabling them to make choices and decisions that influence events and their world as strong capable competent learners.’
‘We aim to support children’s overall sense of wellbeing and increase their emotional intelligence through the love and dedication each of their own unique learning journeys.’
National Quality Standards
1.1.1 Approved learning framework. Curriculum decision making contributes to each child’s learning and development outcomes in relation to their identity, connection with community, wellbeing, confidence as learners and effectiveness as communicators.
1.1.2 Child-centred. Each child’s current knowledge, strengths, ideas, culture, abilities and interests are the foundation of the program.
1.2.1. Intentional teaching. Educators are deliberate, purposeful, and thoughtful in their decisions and actions. 5.2.2 Self-regulation. Each child is supported to regulate their own behaviour, respond appropriately to the behaviour of others and communicate effectively to resolve conflicts
Kids College family
At Kids College Childcare we work each day embedding our values and philosophy into each facet of what we do. We continually improve our practices by critically reflecting and engaging in meaningful relationships with our community and for this we need your support and input.
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With love, laughter and learning from your friends in the
‘village it takes to raise a child’
Teacher Jen and the Kids College Childcare family