Why children enjoy playing pretend

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Playing pretend never goes out of vogue with children.

Once upon a time, there was a rat pack of a grandmother who never threw anything away. She rummaged through her closets and dresser drawers, clamored through her attic and ventured down into her basement, collecting a massive collection of clothing from the past, including Halloween costumes, prom dresses, cheerleader outfits, football gear and dance costumes, that she bestowed on her granddaughter, who beamed as if she had been presented the Hope Diamond.

Playing pretend and dress up games never go out of vogue, even with the most sophisticated children. There is something universally appealing about dressing up and pretending to be something that you are not: a gypsy, a cowboy, a pirate, or a rabbit. Kids enjoy playing dress up.

With some creativity, most people can find a stash of get ups in the closet. Augmenting old clothes, uniforms and jewelry with new and delightfully whimsical costumes will tickle your child. Costumes and pretend-play outfits will become a welcome addition to the dress-up arsenal. You can augment enchanting and charming store bought costumes with bits and pieces found in your home, including old hats, costume jewelry, a faux mink stole, a musty old tuxedo and whatever else you tucked away for a rainy day.

Dressing up is the game. Nothing else is required, although your child or grandchild may convince you to engage in a fancy tea party well suited for Alice in Wonderful or a venture through Oz, which your backyard has transformed into courtesy of a very active imagination. Dressing up encourages flights of fancy, which we all need now and then.

Children learn by pretending, experimenting, investigating and exploring. Sometimes, children work through fears by playing pretend, or use pretend play to present problems and ask questions. Children often take on the persona of a pretend-character, and enjoy dressing in themed boys and girls clothing. Many little boys have a cowboy gear stage or spend the summer as a sailor. Little girls enjoy wearing ballerina-inspired outfits for a trip to the grocery store. Expressing themselves through pretend play gives children confidence and self-esteem.

You do not have to wait for Halloween to buy your child or grandchild a costume. Give her one for her birthday or for Christmas or just because you want to. Any day can be a gift giving occasion from mom or grandma. Fill a large container or chest with beads and baubles, silks and satins, animal outfits, fairy-ware, and anything that suits your fancy and your child's. Let children have ready access to this treasure trove of play pretend.

Turn the dressing-up game playing into a teaching moment. What better time than to discuss why  George Washington wore a wig and how Indians made moccasins. Debate why rabbits have such long ears and if there really was a character named Captain Hook and did he really have a hook for a hand.

Many a child has gained a lifetime appreciation for color, fabric, texture, style and history and honed their creative skills through the art of playing pretend and dressing up.

Get started now, creating a cache of costumes for your child or grandchild. Surprise them with new costumes and then sprinkle in some of your own. Twenty years from now, do not be surprised to hear, Remember when we used to dress up like ...

Dressing up is not the exclusive domain of the under age 10 set. Big people can dress up, too.

Scholastic: The Importance of Pretend Play
The Role of Pretend Play in Children's Cognitive Development

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