Growing your child’s imagination

The aeroplane, the light bulb, television; none of these remarkable achievements would have been possible without imagination. So how do we cultivate imagination through play in our toddlers? If you’re anything like me, you want the most significant outcome with the least amount of preparation and effort, I mean, who wants to spend an hour putting together an activity that your kids get tired of in 20 minutes, right?

Cue… Dress-up. The options are limitless and the preparation, well… that’s the best part, there is none! Whether it is in the classroom or at home, all you need to do is provide your kids with a couple of options and voila! They are using their imaginations before even putting the outfits on! I know what you’re thinking; is there really any value to dress-up? Why can’t my kids use their imaginations in their normal clothes?

In a world where technology provides our kids with an excuse NOT to use their imagination, by showing them anything they desire on TV, or providing them with Apps that do their imagining for them, they often require a little more motivation to access that part of their brains. Once they do though, the developmental milestones they achieve are limitless! So I decided to do a little test-run with my kids- naturally these things need to be verified. I was not disappointed! They love experimenting with different roles and exploring new scenarios.

Need some more convincing? Here are 6 life skills children develop while playing dress-up:

  1.       Cognitive development

–        Memory: Before children can begin using their imagination to create new scenarios in Dress-up, they have to draw on past experiences. They access their memories for scenarios that they have experienced, and can recreate through play. This helps them improve their memories which, in turn, leads to improved concentration, better focus and increased attention span.

–        Role Play: Children access their memories for relevant scenarios that can be used in imagination play. They then take these memories and apply them to the roles that their dress-up clothes determine. It enables them to gain perspective be re-enacting situations they have been through, from the outlook of a different role-player.

  1.       Building vocabulary

–        Engaging in role-play helps build a child’s vocabulary as they have to find new words that are applicable to different scenarios. While my son was dressed up as a doctor he asked me the names of all the different apparatus and what the function was of each. He then proceeded to explain each tool to his ‘patient’ and used them to treat him. He then asked me what food was good to fix sick people and asked his sister, dressed as a chef, to cook that food or his sick teddy. None of this vocabulary would come up in an ordinary situation; it was all encouraged by dress-up.

  1.       Learning how to solve problems

–        Believe it or not, simply providing children with more than one option for dress-up allows them to start the problem solving process. Before choosing which outfit they would like to wear, they will first have to work out which scenario they can apply to which outfit, what their knowledge of that outfit is, and if they can imagine a scenario where they would have fun wearing that outfit.

–        Add a second child to the equation and you have problem solving on a whole new level. Who gets to wear which outfit? Who determines the role of each character? If problem solving initially wasn’t enough, here you’ve got some conflict resolution added to the mix as well. I saw this with my own kids; both wanted to be the chef, then both wanted to be the doctor. Eventually they both decided to take turns.

  1.       Processing function

–        This is my personal favourite benefit of dress-up. Play often provides a safe environment for kids to work through their fears and insecurities, and taking on a different role is a very effective way to do this. My son does not enjoy going to the doctor. When he was playing he was soothing his teddy by telling it that the stethoscope doesn’t hurt, by explaining why he had to get an injection, etc. He was working through his own insecurities.

–        Another benefit is the ability to build empathy. By putting themselves into another role, kids are able to recreate experiences through the eyes of somebody else. My daughter wanted to swap from being the chef to being a mommy. She sat with the teddy and held its hand, gave it cuddles. This also allows me to see how best I can respond to these different scenarios as well.

  1.       Motor skills

–        It wouldn’t be a useful activity if it wasn’t developing motor skills. Watch your child struggle to do up buttons and try tell me they aren’t utilizing underdeveloped muscles in their fingers.

–        Playing out different roles allows children to try new physical activities as they recreate roles and situations they have seen before. When it was my son’s turn to be the chef he set about chopping imaginary vegetables, peeling carrots, frying food. These are all things he has seen me do and was imitating.

  1.       Developing confidence

–        Dress-up allows children to assert themselves in a way that is often not socially acceptable for a child. They can voice their opinions, make decisions, see cause and effect, all from the safety of their chosen persona.

–        It also allows them to figure out real-life responses to different situations, something they may be too shy to do in a normal social situation. Then, the next time they are faced with a similar scenario, they would already have worked out the appropriate response in their mind, giving them more confidence in everyday situations.

All this and all you have to do is provide a few alternative dress-up outfits? Count me in. So your final question… is all of this going to cost me a fortune? The answer is no! Linked here are the dress-up outfits seen in the images. A few of these, added to some of your old dresses, t-shirts, belts and hats, will make for endless dress-up fun, which, most importantly, means hours of uninterrupted tea-drinking for you!

From one parent to another,

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