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Dressing up and imaginative play is an important part of children’s development.

Dressing up is essentially role play and role play has long been a key tool in therapy and psychology, for good reason.

It engages emotion, cognition, language and sensory motor skills all at once dress-up role playing opens all sorts of connections and pathways throughout your child’s brain. It helps develop physical dexterity, social skills, empathy, vocabulary and decision-making skills.

This sort of increased activity is essential to the development of broad-based intelligence in children.

Some of the other benefits of dress-ups for children are:
  • It promotes independence: when children play they’re also learning the mechanics of getting clothes on and off. In other words, they’ll learn to dress themselves.  You’ll get out the door quicker every day. It is a win-win!
  • It expands speech and language skills: as young children take on different roles and characters their brains grasp wider for the appropriate phrasing, language and speech patterns to go with that role.
  • Emotional development: exploring different aspects of their personalities helps children understand and process their own emotions better.  You will also find out a lot about their inner world if you pay attention!
“Even though play is often underestimated, children develop ideas about the world around them when they engage in dramatic dress-up play,” says Christina Mullen, a teacher and counseling intern at Lincoln-Edison Elementary School in North Las Vegas, Nevada. When a child puts on a tool belt, he’s trying to figure out what “going to work” is like. Children grow and develop in a variety of ways through dress-up play.

Play is not a departure from learning – learning is at the heart of play. When your little one engages in dress-up play, he or she represents himself as someone else. He might be a policeman, a baker, a father or a dog. She might be a princess, a doctor, a business woman, or she might be you! They put on clothing, shoes and a hat and use props to act out a role or tell a story. Create a dress-up box for your child that includes everything from a doctor’s jacket to a police officer’s badge, and imagination will kick into high gear.

To make sure dressing up and role playing become part of your child’s day-to-day activity, the easiest thing to do is set up your own dress-up box at home.

Having your own dress-up box eliminates mess and frustration and lets them dip in and out as they choose.

And fear not, you don’t need to be able to sew to make great dress-up fun.

How to set up your dress-up box

You’ll need at least one large storage box but two is ideal. That way as the collection grows you can have it sorted into:
  • Costumes
  • Accessories, wigs and hats
If you are lucky enough to have lots of room, you could set up a dress-up corner.  This could have a hat rack for hats and coats, a wall of stick-on hooks for beads and jewels, a shoe rack for shoes and some big boxes with all the costumes. Oh to be so lucky!
A couple of big boxes is a great place to start.  But don’t store them away, put them somewhere prominent in your child’s room so they’re always at hand and don’t have to be asked for constantly.

Filling your dress-up box
  • Talk to family members: older members may have some terrific hats, gloves and brooches to donate. But homemade items and items from Granny are always the most treasured and unique.
  • A visit to the local costume shop can also be a fun activity
  • Key costume shop items are: waistcoats, suit jackets, formal dresses, handbags, ties, scarves, beads, trinkets, shoes, hats and glasses (clear and sunglasses)
  • Make sure you choose clothes and accessories that can be put on and taken off easily.
  • Make your own dress-up stuff at home too! It makes for a great cold winter or home-sick day project!
You can add to the box over the years with store-bought dress-up stuff, Halloween costumes, old prom dresses, uniforms, toys, props and more.
A special thank you to Penny Flanagan and Kidspot, Karen LoBello on, as well as the Strong Museum for ideas and help in writing this. 
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