Dress Up and Dramatic Play

Dress up and dramatic play is one of the most important and common parts of growing up, and a very important part of childhood. Watching young children play is like magic – the smiles, the fun, the laughter the creative ideas. Children from almost any age, any gender, any background and with any interests can remain occupied for hours through dress up and dramatic play. No matter what storyline they are acting out, they are creating meaningful interactions with each other and themselves that help them learn more about the world around them. Which might make you ask the question, how exactly does dressing up and dramatic play benefit learning, and why is it so important? 

Children get to express themselves, learn more about their identity, and become more confident. 

Children get to be themselves in a whole new way and indulge in a world of imagination. Children get to express themselves, learn more about their identity, and become more confident. Research shows that dramatic play is one of the most important forms of learning. It is linked to language development, positive social skills, problem solving skills, and thinking creatively. Dress up and dramatic play helps children imitate the world around them, making them form connections to other people. For example, when children are pretending to talk on the phone, it proves they are translating that they understand this concept and have demonstrated how to use it in their own lives. A great product for this would be My First Phone, which features a magnifying glass and a colourful dial pad encourage interactive play and help develop dexterity and cognitive skills. 

Two young kids playing pretend with phones

Learn Through Play

Learn while having fun! Children learn a variety of skills through dress up and dramatic play, such as: 

  • It helps children be creative. Children will take any kind of costume and make it into their own invention. It could be creating a completely new character or turning a tutu into a cape; whatever it is, it is helping children imagine and create without feeling like a chore. It helps open their minds to new possibilities!  

  • It can last for hours. Dramatic play is a great way to keep kids entertained. It is also extremely versatile as far as age groups go, as kids as young as toddlers up until around the preteen ages can engage in dramatic play.  

  • Independence. Young children learn how to dress themselves, create positive social interactions with friends, and take turns sharing and playing together. This helps children become confident in doing things by themselves, helping them gain independence and a sense of pride in themselves. It helps give them the confidence they need to handle more tasks in their day to day lives by themselves!  

  • Language and motor skills. Through interacting with their peers, using play objects and creating dramatic scenes, children are developing their vocabulary and playing with their hands simultaneously. They are essentially learning about the world around them through new words, new objects, new stories, and putting them all together at once! It’s incredible what their little minds absorb and retain.  

  • Social skills and friendships. These types of play help social interactions in a way that more traditional and structured ways of learning cannot. They help children learn to share toys, ask for favours, and form a sense of community. Sharing items with other classmates is an important lesson when it comes to early childhood development, and there is no shortage of sharing lessons learned when it comes to learning through play.  

Two young girls play pretend with stickers on their face

Teach Dress Up Play

Teachers don’t need to be involved much in dramatic play, as its main purpose is to help children learn real life skills individually and without assistance. However, if you do want to utilize the opportunities when it comes to learning through play, here are some tips to help your students get the most out of their dramatic and dress up play.  

  • Ask questions. Asking the children questions about the roles they are playing, the activities they are doing and what scenario they have created. If they play seems repetitive and simple, encourage them with new ideas and suggestions. 

  • Observe. Watch the children and see what kinds of pretend play they are acting as. Are they imitating people in their personal life? Or characters they see in movies/television shows? Superhero’s? This a great way to learn about their interests and have an idea on what kind of things they are observing themselves, as it reflects in their play.  

  • Don’t overstay your welcome. Students rely on hands on learning and this needs to be facilitated to a degree on their own. Getting overly involved can slow down this process and hinder their creativity. Learn the boundaries when it comes to play, and when to let the imagination take flight by themselves! 

  • Make sure no student gets left behind. Students who may have social anxiety or feel uncomfortable about playing with other students might be hesitant to put themselves out there. If you see a child by themselves, help integrate them by inviting them to play along. Students can be sensitive to new groups of classmates or may be feeling anxious in their abilities. Help assure them they are welcomed and an important part of the group. Sometimes, they just need a little push to help them warm up to their environment! 

  • Allow them to express different gender roles. Dress up and pretend play is often about focusing on children finding a sense of identity, so it is very common for them to play pretend with different roles, both masculine and feminine. They are discovering who they are, so encourage and allow that expression instead of enforcing specific gender roles on them.  

  • Remember, there are no rules in dramatic play. Dramatic and dress up play is a place for kids to interact with each other, their own world and identity, and this may look differently than what you expected or anticipated. Unless they are being harmful or obscene to one another, allow them to play however they would like – even if it doesn’t make sense or follow a specific idea of what you had in mind. Let their imagination run wild! 

Young girl plays dress up with pink crown

Play Area Set-Up

Dress up and dramatic play is an important part of development, as it helps children develop crucial life skills like language, creativity, independence and motor skills. Setting your classroom up for success may seem like a challenge, but with the right storage spaces, the right play area and the right accessories to accentuate dress up and dramatic play, children will have a blast playing amongst their peers and creating new scenarios in no time! 

Some suggestions would be the Rotating Dress Up Storage that features mirrors and compartments to put away their various dress up items and objects. The mirrors are great for dress up play so children can see exactly what kind of character look they have put together! The Multipurpose Storage Combination is another great option that features 20 mobile trays to store all your smaller dramatic and dress up play items. These kinds of storage compartments make it easy for children to grab what they would like to use and remember where they found it, so they can return it when they are finished using it.      

Children need an open play space that enables them to grow and learn. It should be safe, open, and can be organized. Helping children clean up after play is a great way to instill responsibility and ensure they don’t lose their favourite dress up and dramatic play items. So, you now know the benefits and reasons as to why pretend and dramatic play is a key role in early development, but you still aren’t sure how to plan and execute your space into the perfect setting to let little imaginations run wild. Take into consideration the age and interests of your students, the dimensions of your space, and how you plan on organizing your play items. Here are some simple steps to help create your dream play space: 

  • Step 1: Brainstorm what type of dramatic play area you want to have, with the pace you already have. Think of a theme or cohesive layout you anticipate the children using. An example of an ideal play space is a kitchen themed play area. It is a very popular idea for children, as it is versatile and has many different creative scenarios that can be used for dramatic play. Another fun spot for dramatic play could include a laundry centre. Kids love to mimic what they see in the real world and in their personal lives at home!  

  • Step 2: Plan the larger items, such as furniture and seating arrangements. Make sure the space is right for the appropriate age group. If you are teaching to young students such as kindergarten to grade 2, you need to create a space that is accessible to reach and play, filled with items that would peak their interests. Making this space easy for them to use, filled with age-appropriate toys, and setting a scene that allows dramatic play to flourish! 
  • Step 3: Adding small additional items and accessories such as play fooddolls, and kitchen supplies to help make this dramatic play area complete! Think about what kind of items would best fit with the theme of your play area, and how children could incorporate them with their dress up and dramatic play. You can never have too many items to encourage learning through play!  

Dramatic Play Accessories

  • Role Play Set can be a fun way for kids to engage in pretend play. It is creative and a fun way to get children involved in imaginary play. Watch children act out scenes as different titles such as doctor, fireman, scientist, and astronaut. This type of dress up play encourages children to dream big and learn more about their world! 

  • Dress-Up Tutu’s are a great tool for dramatic play. Children often use them in different ways than they are intended for, improving their creative skills and keeping them thinking outside the box. Children love to imitate ballerinas and other various styles of dance, encouraging them to be active!  

  • Action Hats are a go-to for dramatic play, as they are quick, simple and can be used for all kids and all types of play! 

  • Capes are an easy, functionable item to have with dress up play. Children can use capes and turn them into anything, to fit any story or play scenario. Children are fascinated by pretend magicians and magic shows! 

  •  A chef costume is a must-have for kitchen dramatic play! Children love to pretend they are creating their own bakery and restaurant scene, interacting with customers and pretend cooking.  

  • Play food is a perfect addition to dramatic play, especially for a kitchen set up. The fresh picked fruit and veggie tote is also a fun tool, with an assortment of seventeen colourful fruits and vegetables to choose from. Perfect for pretend play cooking and baking! 

  • Dolls are a fun toy for children to play with and are very popular. Children imitate being a parental figure with the doll and participate in things such as pretending to feed the doll, cradle it and change its clothing. It helps teach empathy and responsibility!  

Young child plays pretend with doll

Learning through play is a unique experience for every individual child and student, and each play scenario and storyline are different, which is what makes it so magical. It is so important to give students time to explore these types of play not only as it helps them in so many aspects of their life, but it also helps to create an inclusive community with bright and creative thinkers and provides children with an exciting and fun time in the classroom they get to look forward to. Dress up and dramatic play is one of the best tools for learning because children never get bored, and the opportunities are endless.    

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