It’s Halloween…tomorrow!! That being said, there really isn’t a better topic for us to talk about than dress up play; it’s fun, it’s cute, and it’s also really good for your child’s mind! I’m beginning to sense a theme of these blog posts, are you? Play, in its many forms, is a pretty amazing thing, especially for your toddler. There are so many benefits of play—emotionally, socially, cognitively, developmentally—and imaginative play is no exception. Here are some of the benefits commonly associated with imaginary or dress up play (but there are always more than meet the eye):
Children who engage in pretend play have to use their imaginations to create characters, situations, and stories. Sometimes they are pulling these things from their own experiences and sometimes they are creating them all on their own. They get to try out new things, experiment, and explore all in a safe space. Imagination is a building block for learning and wondering. Scientists, artists, designers, inventors, explorers, writers (and so many more!) have to use their imaginations daily, leading us to wonderful, exciting, and even life-changing discoveries! Imagination makes our lives more interesting and better and when children are playing, it gives us a special glimpse into their understanding of the world around them.
When children pretend to be something or someone else, they use words and expression in a way they typically would not use otherwise. They’re processing how the world works and dress up play is an outlet for expressing what they’ve seen and to interpret things they are just beginning to understand. Dramatic play also gives parents and educators a chance to extend a child’s language skills by elaborating on their play and adding in rich, descriptive words.
Self-esteem and confidence:
Having complete control during dress up play encourages a child’s self-expression. As they grow up, children become more confident with who they are because they are comfortable with the idea that they can be anything they desire. Anytime a child engages in a fun activity that makes them laugh or smile, they are becoming more confident, especially when you are there to encourage them!
We’ve discussed how egocentric toddlers are, so this age is a prime time for beginning to develop social skills such as cooperation, sharing, and taking turns. This can be easier for them to practice during pretend or imaginative play. We all need practice to get better at certain skills, and children can practice appropriate behavior, manners, and language during play time that can be applied to real world situations.
One of our goals as a nature-play program is to develop empathy in young children and a connectedness to all living things. As a toddler, imagining the world from the perspective of someone else is tough because toddlers are just starting to understand the world through their own eyes! Pretend and dress up play is a great introduction to putting yourself in another’s shoes, which leads to empathy and compassion.
There are so many simple ways to encourage imaginative play with your child. We try out new things each week at our dress up station—from stick crowns to bird wings to bug eyes—that would be easy for you to try out at home too! Having duck raincoats, animal masks, and butterfly wings is awesome, but you don’t need anything fancy to pretend play with your little one. Something as simple as a stick or a box can turn into anything if you put your mind to it! Here are a few really amazing (and beautiful) books that we recommend to inspire you and your child as well:
Dream Animals: A Bedtime Journey by Emily Winfield Martin; Journey by Aaron Becker; Sleep Like a Tiger by Mary Logue; Not a Box by Antoinette Portis
--Emily Van Laan