Thursday, September 19, 2013

7 Skills of Dress Up Play

Our preschool area is under construction, so the older children haven't had access to their  [free-choice activity] dress-up clothes. The toddlers have their own, but they are "safe," i.e. they do not have buttons, beads, ties longer than 6 inches, or are easily broken or have ANYTHING that can be potentially removed. 

So, with it being a muddy nasty day, I decided to combine the two bins and carefully monitor some group dress-up play.

I was continuously reminded of just how many very IMPORTANT skills they practice during 
dress up. 

I've been to centers that had a neat little rack for their token quantity of dress up clothes. A princess dress, a vest, an apron, a couple of scarves and a tie, and three, and only three, it seems at all of them, hats neatly lined up on top. Seriously, they looked like the catalog pic...

and it made me sad.

"Well, we don't want the children spreading germs to one another, or, heaven forbid, LICE!"

We don't have a fancy dancy rack here, because it wouldn't hold all of our dress up stuff, and at the end of play time, who wants to sort everything out to hang up, put on hangers, etc... NO ONE! 

Clean up shouldn't be a looming pall over joyous play. While sorting is a great learning skill, doing so tired and anticipating another activity is usually not that educational for a child. Just frustrating.

So this is what our dress up bins look like. 
Hunting through for treasures is half the fun!

 We have a preschool bin of dress up, a toddler bin, a large trashbag full in storage for rotation, and some outside.

I've got MAYBE $20 invested in everything. It has been obtained through older sibling hand-me-downs, donations, thrift-stores, clearance sales [especially 90% off Halloween!] and garage sales. 

 Here is some of the things they practice 
and learn during dress up...

"But I wanted that princess dress!"
"Well, you can wear it after me."

While it may not seem like a profound conversation, it is for 3-4 year olds. There was no fighting, only conversation. One stated her need, the other responded with reassurance and a time frame.

I don't believe in forcing sharing. I believe it will come naturally as children find value in it.

 "Can you help me?" 

"Can you help me zip now?"


Even though I am right there, the girls look to one another for help, rather than me, first. Since this is usually a free-choice activity, and during their free time I am usually working with the toddlers, they have learned to rely on one another.


Some children simply may not have the resources or parental acceptance to explore all avenues they would like. A little boy in a tutu may not receive the best response in some families. Never mind that children this age are just beginning to have gender identity AT ALL, let alone anything set. Child care/preschool is a place of acceptance to exploration.


For the preschoolers, dress up is often related to dramatic play. They put on an apron when they play in the kitchen area. They put on the princess dresses and the pirate outfits to play royalty. They work together to create dialog and enact a scene.  

"Princes bow and princesses curtsy!" Mr. G stated to the girls, bowing.


While their own clothing may be difficult to get on and off, the larger dress up clothes make practicing these skills much easier. Fine motor, gross motor, logic/reasoning, etc. are all worked during dress up.

Some items are intentionally difficult to get on and off for the preschoolers, so that they work those self-help skills just as much as the toddlers.


Boots go on our feet. Hats go on our heads. Bracelets go on our wrists. Scarves are worn in winter. That hat is worn by construction workers. Look, I'm a chef! 

These are all statements I heard.


Soft feathers, smooth satin, wiry wigs, crispy tulle, sparkly sequins, fluffy furs, stiff leather, are a sensory delight to children. The ability to experience so many different textures through interactive play is just wonderful. 

Constantly, I see children stopping to simply feel one or more textures and assess them. 

Miss H was feeling the outline of a cameo on her dress-up dress nearly the entire time she was wearing it.

If you aren't doing dress up, please do! The amount of learning that takes place during this type of play is simply astounding.

If you would like a fancy dancy rack for your own, here's a wonderful post on how to make one fairly easily and inexpensively. I like the fleur-de-lis pattern she chose to go with Ana White's plan. 

Tags: child, care, child care, dress up, dress-up, daycare, preschool, pre-k, homeschool, homeschooling, home, school, play, dramatic, dramatic play, learning, play, loose parts, make believe, 

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