Pretend Play is so important for early learning. Kids will create imaginary worlds with next to nothing and it’s our job as parents to pique that sense of curiosity and independent imagination play.
Creating a ‘dramatic centre’ at home is one of the easiest things to do and it can be done very inexpensively. Yet… most parents create pretend play centres with huge, expensive plastic stations like kitchens and playhouses and fancy dress up clothes. Although those are fun toys to have, you can manage an awesome dress up collection and pretend play set-up with much less.
If you give your child the gift of an imagination, all he needs is a paper chef hat and he will cook you a delicious meal on the family room sofa, without a plastic kitchen. Give her a hardhat or toolbelt, not a full plastic workbench, and your daughter will pretend to assemble her bedroom furniture.
Inspire the imagination and you will inspire creativity for a lifetime and a create a child who is not easily bored.
The top 6 Must-Haves in a Dress-Up corner:
1. Quick play and Easy Dressing
The easier it is to dress up in a jiffy, the more frequent your child will be inclined to choose pretend play. Toddlers need simple things that add magic quickly so choose items simple things that add pizazz fast and skip any cumbersome buttons or snaps.
Ideas for a quick & easy first dress up bin for toddlers:
• Hats: cowboy hats, hard hats, ball caps, tiaras & crowns, witch hats, mickey mouse ears, winter toques, floppy sun hats,
• Fast Face Changes: ski goggles, sunglasses, silly glasses with mustaches, pretend make-up,
• Easy to put on: Jewelry, Hawaiian leis, medals of honour on a ribbon, capes, tutus, men’s ties,
• Pretend play: magic wands, workbench kit, old cellphone, wallets & purses with pretend credit cards, small backpacks
2. Grow into the dress up bin
Plan on a space that can grow. As Halloween costumes get added and interests span into more elaborate stuff (ie: the princess craze will leave you with at least one fancy gown!) plan on a space that can be added to. Start small and if your child likes to play, keep adding. Allocate a bin or wall area to keep it all together.
3. Group it together
Doesn’t matter if it is a bin, box, wall of hooks or even a dress up wardrobe… just keep it all together. When kids can visually see items, they will play more. If dress-up clothes are scattered and hard to find, they are less inspiring.
At our house we started with a Rubbermaid bin we tossed everything into. As more Halloweens past and princess interest grew, we added a row of hooks to the playroom wall for easy reach and display. A second row was simple to add as more costumes came home.
Once our 3rd child became princess crazy we needed something more. For Christmas, her Papa made an actual mini wardrobe for princess gowns with space on top for hats and jewelry. Pinterest has lots of inspiration for these types of things to keep the costumes nice and orderly. Just don’t forget about the reason we have the dresses – it’s to PLAY with them. Make sure they are always assessable.
4. Mirror, Mirror on the Wall
Let kids see themselves! Hang a mirror close to the dress up area. Watch the smile spread as your child sees themselves in a new hat, wig or costume.
5. Simple & Cheap is Great
As a child, my dress up bin was super simple. My mom’s old blouses were long enough for perfect dresses. I donned old costume jewelry and was even lucky enough to inherit a pair of old high heels. It really was a tickle trunk, an old castaway trunk from years past.
Opening that trunk was fascinating and every play held a new adventure. It was a basic dress up box compared to what is common today. Dress up bins do not need to be full of fancy, specialized costumes. Fill it with everyday items help open your child’s imagination to believe they are something else.
Next time you donate your old clothes to GoodWill, have a look through the pile with your child’s eyes. Save a few items for play. Or visit the Goodwill yourself to pick up inspiring treasures to play with.
6. Sometimes, fancy Store-bought costumes do trump everything else
This may sound hypocritical based on pervious points, but there is something super special about donning a Spiderman costume, Cinderella gown or a full fire fighter suit. Store bought creations are more available and less expensive than in the past. Especially if you have a child going through the classic princess phase, she will fall in love with a special princess dress.
After Halloween scoop up discounted costumes to give preschoolers for Christmas gifts. Check out second hand stores, mom to mom sales or online auctions for gently used costumes, you will find great deals at half the price. Sometimes, you can’t replace the ‘real deal’ and adding a few special items to pretend play brings irreplaceable smiles.
Inspire imagination by starting with the basics and then adding to your collection with the detailed costumes later on once your child shows real interest in pretend play.