Learning Through Dress Up, Imagination Play

Wearing costumes and playing pretend helps children open their minds. By dressing up as a character or different person, your child gets to role-play. This can also be used a teaching tool to help your child learn about how everything and everyone in the world has a special role. A dentist checks people’s teeth, a puppy drinks water from a bowl, a teacher works with children and an elephant plays in puddles.

Dressing up is fun! - photo from Elise D.

Role-playing allows children an opportunity to use their imagination and be creative. They also learn empathy when they take on the roles of others and it helps them learn how to act in society.

To stimulate this role-playing, gather old clothes, items from garage sales or costumes in a large trunk or bin. Allow your child to choose items from the trunk and create his own outfits. Here are some ideas to aid your child in playing pretend:

  • Take a sheet or blanket and make it into a cape. Become a superhero, king or queen. As the superhero, who will you rescue today? Being royalty, what are you going to eat or do? Can you make a crown to go along with your royal garb?
  • Dress up as an animal. Discuss where you live. Is it hot or cold there? Who do you live with? Are there other animals around? What do you eat?
  • Pretend to be a mommy or daddy by dressing up in parents’ clothes. Use props like baby dolls, briefcases or pretend cars. Go to work and come home. What roles do moms fulfill? What tasks do dads complete? By making a pretend family, children learn important social and familial lessons. Let children play that they are cooking or cleaning. Throughout the day, have your child help with tasks such as going to the bank, grocery store, using the ATM or mailing letters. This helps children learn what adults do.
  • Gather different work costumes or create your own so children can try out careers. A neon-colored shirt allows your child to be a construction worker. Try on a blue shirt with a messenger bag to be a postal worker. Trying different roles helps children learn what other people in their neighborhood do for a living.
  • When children act out the role of a firefighter, they are learning how to protect and take care of others. They learn how to get out if they were ever in a fire. Let them play with a hose or cardboard wrapping paper roll to pretend to drench a box that is “on fire.”
  • A simple star badge can make your child into a sheriff. What does the sheriff do in town? When children act out the role of police officer, they are learning how to protect the neighborhood. They learn how to write when they write out “tickets.” They also learn how to keep themselves safe from harm. Give your child a remote control car and have him imitate the sound a police car makes when responding to an emergency.
  • A white coat or T-shirt can allow your child to become a doctor or a dentist. As children act out these roles, they are learning how to talk to people and gain empathy when they ask how a person is feeling. As a doctor or dentist, children learn how to be gentle with others. Playing the role of a doctor or dentist also helps alleviate some fears of having to go in for a check up. Children know what to expect if they can act it out first.

You can also use costumes, hats or props when pretending.

No matter what your children want to act out or play, let them explore how their “character” responds to various situations. Make their roles more real with different props, like a wooden spoon for a chef or a medical kit for a doctor. Adults can aid in children’s learning by telling them what roles the different careers have in society or reading books about the jobs.

Have fun and let your child guide the pretend play as this builds imagination. When asked, gently guide your child or answer any questions they might have.

Have fun playing pretend together!

© Let’s Talk Kids, LLC 2012