Fire up their imagination! – Why children love to dress up.

Posted on April 02 2018

Fire up their imagination! – Why children love to dress up.

Fire up their imagination! – Why children love to dress up.

We know that children of all ages love to dress up. To them it is just play time and they have lots of fun, but many experts believe that learning is at the heart of play so that is a win-win all round.

The next time they raid the dressing up box and dress head to toe in hats, capes, pirate costumes, frothy dresses and anything else they can get their hands on you can relax and let their imaginations run riot while they play and learn at the same time. Dress up play is serious business and it teaches your kids many skills they will use for years to come.

Here is our list of 10 benefits for your child from playing dressing up.

1. Dress up play fosters the imagination;

Children have vast, open imaginations. They aren’t limited by what they know about the world so their minds can go anywhere. They’ll make connections you and I never would because just don’t know any better, and dress up play encourages them to do this in a safe way.

When children engage in dress-up play, their imaginations are given free reign. There is no limit to who, where, or what they can be. Let’s encourage them to do this and they get to have fun at the same time!


Rudolf Steiner, the founder of Waldorf education, believed that imaginative play in early childhood is the key to creative thinking during the adult years. This is great news that they can have lots of fun now and it will benefit them in the future.

2. Encourages emotional development

By allowing children to explore through dress-up and role playing, we are helping their emotional development. Children are constantly confronted with unfamiliar or even scary situations that they don’t understand for example witnessing an accident in real life, or seeing violent images on TV. They can process their thoughts through play and dressing up which then helps them make sense of the world.

By pretending to be other people, children experiment with new ideas and behaviours. They can explore in their imaginations the elements of a new identity and decide what they like and what they don’t like.

For example maybe your child pretends one day to be a cowboy. He or she decides that working on a farm isn’t for them, but they still love animals which could then lead them down a path of working with animals.



3. Dress up play develops physical dexterity

Children develop fine motor skills by putting on dress-up clothes. For example they may need to button up a shirt or a sleeve, tie a bow or a knot, fix a prate’s bandana or learn to fasten a buckle on a ride on costume. There are lots of opportunities to practise these skills when your child is dressing up and they won’t even notice.


At the other end of the scale they use their large motor skills and develop physical strength in activities such as climbing and jumping like a superhero, running like a big cat, prowling in the wild like a dinosaur, crawling like a caterpillar or twirling like a ballerina. These are movements that they wouldn’t typically make in everyday life so they get lots of practise in moving and stretching plus lots of exercise. Brilliant!


4. Dress up play encourages social skills

An important one this.

Your little ones learn about themselves and also learn from others through role play. They move toward cooperative play as they interact and communicate about what they are doing.

Dress-up play is such a great way to encourage teamwork and an interest in others. Kids learn to communicate and negotiate with each other and share. For example; “All of us can be firefighters, if we have enough hats.”

They take turns, cooperate, agree on topics and play by the rules, and all of these are tremendously important skills to learn as they grow up.


Another important part of dress-up play is that kids can learn about skills for different careers and jobs. They can literally put themselves in the shoes of their heroes and role models. This then encourages them to explore what they would do and how they would behave if they were a builder, nurse, fire fighter, beautician or even a racing driver.


5. Empathy

Playing with costumes provides a strong lesson in empathy. By imagining and “living” the life of someone else, your child has to put themselves in that person’s shoes. It then leads the child to ask questions. How do they feel? What are their motivations? How would they behave in certain situations?

Following on from this your child and friends can then act out their own situations and make stories or even plays involving various characters. What better way to learn?

All of this strengthens a broader skill: the ability to understand other people’s feelings. It is easy to understand how having empathy will help them deal with and work with people in school and at their jobs.

6. Communication and Vocabulary Building

Dress-up play builds vocabulary as a child decides what his or her character would say. It gives them a chance to expand their vocabularies with words and phrases that they might have heard in stories, but wouldn’t ordinarily use.

Then children begin to develop their own stories to re-enact rather than just copy the stories they have read in books or seen on television.


Then they may then begin to use these new words in conversations outside of dressing up and so they expand their vocabularies and improve their communication skills.

7. Cognitive skills

To engage in dramatic play your child must first recall and make sense of what they have seen or read. For example, they have to remember what the police officer does when controlling traffic and what he says, or what the dentist says to calm her patient and so on.

Children then progress towards more abstract thinking as they create their own stories and situations and act them out.

The stimulating and exciting environment of dress-up play pushes your child toward higher levels of thinking. They will use their brain and won’t even realise how much they are learning!

8. Problem solving and Decision making

Related to cognitive skills is learning how to problem solve and make decisions.

Who’s going to be the nurse? Who’s going to be the patient? Where do Zebras live? What do lions eat? What tools or utensils does a gardener or a chef need? They decide which costumes and props fit each character and so the story begins.


Children solve problems when they decide such things as how to put together a doctor’s kit, or how to take care of animals on a farm, or how to build a pirate ship!! They learn to make decisions when they engage in dress-up play. It pushes your child toward higher levels of thinking. They will use their brain and won’t even realise how much they are learning!

Other skills can come into play too. Literacy skills are enhanced as children incorporate colours, numbers, sizes and shapes into their dress-up play and make up their own stories about what's happening.

9. Gender Exploration

When children choose costumes and characters, they are able to explore different gender identities as well as the behaviours of those characters.

It is true that boys often want to be superheroes, firemen, or pirates, and girls often want to be fairies and princesses, it is normal and healthy for children to try on different gender roles as they learn about the world.


A child should never be ridiculed for pretending to be a different gender. Many experts believe that children explore gender in the same way as they explore costumes, props, hair styles and all aspects of pretending to be a character. It is just part and parcel of the particular role play.

10. Imitation

Children are naturally imitative creatures. They learn about the world by imitating the lives of the adults and others around them. Through dress-up and dramatic role-play, children explore the lives of other people by imitating their actions, feelings and words.

As a jeans and sweatshirt wearing mum you may wonder how your child loves to wear feathers, sequins and frothy dresses! This is a normal part of exploration especially of what it is to be female- and mostly they tone it right down as they grow up (unless they land a part in The Real Housewives of Cheshire or TOWIE where they will be right at home).

A word about swords and guns-

Children love dressing up props including hats, fairy wands and wings, builders tools and so on.

But what about playing with guns and swords? Some of us may feel uncomfortable about the use of more violent props- will it encourage violent behaviour?

Our advice is to ensure your knights, pirates or caped crusaders use their powers for good, not evil. Try setting boundaries: Limit the action to the outdoors, for example, and have a rule that everyone is allowed to play including boys, girls and younger children. And make sure the action is supervised too.

Also you could suggest alternatives to traditional (but violent) props such as toy guns. Gold or silver wands, 'magic' trinkets, or hats can become power objects instead – after all it is all in the imagination !!

Happy Dressing Up

Images courtesy of the lovely people at Pretend to Bee


Sue Gerrard - April 2018

1 comment

  • Jafar Adam: May 29, 2018

    I have the same thoughts on much of this material. I am glad I’m not the only person who thinks this way. You have really written an excellent quality article here. Thank you very much.

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