Dressing up?

A time to pause ponder and consider, in our Early Childhood provisions we have traditionally had a rails of second hand dressing up clothing, kindly donated by families whose children have outgrown them. All synthetic in fabric and  a bright array of colours. A mixture of Disney princesses and super hero costumes.

Children often clamber and gravitate to the same costume, they love to dress up as the latest character and sadly using commercial costumes can prove challenging & perhaps add more subliminal barriers to learning than ever initially realised?

The fastenings are potentially broken and children often struggle to get the jump suits, dresses or piece of clothing on independently. Because these costumes are manufactured for children they are not designed to go over the top of clothing & children struggle to pull them on over trousers or current nursery attire. This causes upset, frustration and exasperation from little ones

Trouser lengths are either too long or too tight. Children also become upset and frustrated because there is only one particular costume and a particular child won’t surrender the outfit, that they have been wearing all morning.

Have you noticed that a particular child spends their entire day zipped into an outfit and the majority of the day is dominated by the character they have morphed into. Acting out scenes from the TV and movie screen. We most certainly DON’T want to dampen the joy & happiness and allowing them to follow their own interests, but is the shop purchased costume essential to this type of play?

At The Curiosity Approach® we have mindfully and consciously moved away from commercialised dressing up clothes & have replaced items with authentic clothing, hats and scarves.


This is In a move to transform traditional educational practice and promote authentic play and creativity at Curiosity Approach® settings, we unleash ourselves and the children from the constraints of costumes and commercialised outfits.

Growing up in the 70s, role play and dress up time, was always oversized clippy cloppy shoes, handbags, shawls or a patterned scarf. Pieces of material were capes or netting became a make shift wedding dress. As children dress up play, was all about the imagination and not dependent on the expensive costume we were wearing.

Sadly in the 2000 this traditional & authentic play opportunities for young children took a humungous shift it was in this year that Disney Princess merchandising was launched. Peggy Orenstein speaks about this in her book ‘Cinderella Ate My Daughter’:

I spoke with Mooney [Andy Mooney, Disney executive] one day in his fittingly palatial office in Burbank California… he told me the now-legendary story; how about a month into his tenure, he had flown to Phoenix to check out a Disney on Ice” show and found himself surrounded by little girls in princess costumes. Princess costumes that were – horrors! – homemade. How had such a massive branding opportunity been overlooked.

” Peggy Orenstein

So fast forward 20 years and childhood imaginations have been subliminally and consciously hijacked by TV cartoon characters and Disney or a Pixar icons. Children spend prolonged periods of time watching TV programs & movies & beyond the sofa this fantasy life spills out into their play too.

As we often discuss when it’s World Book Day, rails of supermarket dressing up clothes, are marketed at our youngest consumers. As mentioned above Disney exclusives andChildren no longer need to think, imagine or consider a character, persona or find resources for a make shift costume. Sadly in today’s society boys and girls are now subconsciously influenced by the manufactured outfits, dresses or wealth of super hero costumes to choose from. Marketing at our young consumers is everywhere & children are the biggest influencers on what parents buy. Children no longer want the home made costume or outfit & their values are changing becoming drawn into a world of materialism & constant consumer society. The latest costume to go with the latest movie or Disney princess.

Sandra Calvert explains that paid advertising to children primarily involves television spots that feature

toys and food products. Newer marketing approaches have led to online advertising and to so-called stealth marketing

techniques, such as embedding products in the program content in films, online, and in video games. https://www.researchgate.net/p...

Having worked in Early Years for over 30 years, it’s evident that children’s imagination is being pigeon holed by such outfits. Stifled by restraints of the costume available within the home corner that day.

Let’s consider, the lone Spiderman outfit in your role play area? Once that costume is worn by a child, they are then reluctant to swop outfits and look to automatically re enact scenes from episodes seen on the TV or movie screen. Replaying & re in-acting the actions of their favourite cartoon hero. They are programmed to take on that character & their imagination rarely wavers. Can we offer more?

Maria Montessori tells us that Imagination relies on a solid foundation of real-life experiences, accompanied by ample opportunity for exploration and experimentation- this includes exploration and experimentation through pretending or imagining alternative outcomes. “– Sarah Werner Andrews, “The Development of Imagination and the Role of Pretend Play”, 27th International Montessori Congres

But in these modern times are our children and their play being influenced by commercialisation ?  Bob Reitemeier, chief executive of the Children's Society, says, 'A crucial question raised by the Bailey review is whether childhood should be a space where developing minds are free from concentrated sales techniques.

'As adults we have to take responsibility for the current level of marketing to children. To accuse children of being materialistic in such a culture is a cop-out. Unless we question our own behaviour as a society, we risk creating a generation who are left unfulfilled through chasing unattainable lifestyles.'

The progress report of the Bailey Review.

Bailey’s 2011 review, Letting Children be Children, set out a number of recommendations for businesses, regulators and the Government, to protect children from excessive commercialisation


Yes most certainly role play and dress up of any form, is incredible in childhood, “if you cannot wear a super hero or princess outfit when you are a child, when can you ?

However at Curiosity Approach settings we bring forth new opportunities beyond limitation and offer a wealth of authentic items which open up endless possibilities to play and imaginary experience, which may be stifled due to the abundance of commercialised costumes & synethic outfits.

To help children with fundamental skills of Brain development and those essential skills for creativity, cognitive development & creating narratives of storytelling, language and communication, beyond that of the latest cartoon they watched.
Emotional intelligence is developed as children act out real life scenarios, show empathy and kindness, nurturing and respect as they hold or feed a baby doll and negotiate ideas and thinking. Social skills, cooperation between peers and all important language and communication. Physical development through the development of fine motor skills, fastening of buttons, zips and dressing & undressing. Children are developing dexterity, crossing the midline & dual manipulation. All these skills are needed to support future learning. Through the use of authentic clothing children have watched their families dress and undress. They are more inclined to have a go at buttons and fastenings than the well meaning Velcro strip always positioned up the back of a purchased costume & requires adult assistance to do up !! Let’s promote independence and self actualisation when achieving a self help skill. Empower our children to be independent and not reliant on an adult.

Gender exploration through the use of authentic items and removal of gender driven or commercialised costumes, children have the freedom to explore, discover & be curious about dressing up in non gender specific outfits. Children no longer feel inclined to ‘ self police’ each other and barriers are removed regarding the pink and blue divide of costumes specifically directed & marketed at boys or girls. Freedom and autonomy to choose is reinstated and sub conscience restraints unleashed. It becomes a conscious awareness & understanding of WHY.

Imagination and creativity is like a muscle, the more opportunity children have to develop, the more this grows & children become absorbed & engaged in REAL authentic play. Undirected and unscripted. Children are in charge of the own imaginations & they become engaged in UN - ADULTERATED play. They still act out their favourite TV character but now instantaneously they can switch from goody to baddy without being restricted by the costume they adorn.

Play takes on a flow & is governed by their imagination and not the outfit they squeezed themselves into that session.

So let us consider how we can bring authentic play back to Early Years.

The question will be asked

But my child’s interest is Spider-Man and they absolutely love the Spider-Man costume

At Curiosity Approach® settings we place the child at the centre of everything we do and to meet the child’s interest for Super hero’s and spider man we provide the resources are available to support their imagination, interest and creativity through the provocations we provide.

A child’s imagination is not governed by the costume they wear, we need to pause ponder and consider is it us adults who are clinging onto traditional ways and outfits for fear of the uncertainty and anxiety at the unknown? What will they play with ?

‘Here are some easy and budget friendly ways to bring authentic dress up into children’s play

Variety of Scarves

ask at the opticians for sample glasses frames

Costume jewellery beads and bangles


Hats & gloves


Handbags & cluch bags, brief cases and vanity cases

All variety of textures, patterns & beaded items

Belts and ties

Flat caps, helmets

Hats of all descriptions

Diverse items of clothing,

sari, Punjabi suits etc

Ballet slippers, clogs and clippy cloppy shoes or kitty heels

Bridesmaid dresses

Dicky bow ties

Material for making costumes & outfits, a great loose part

Wedding veil or fascinators

Knee & shin pads

Want to know more about The Curiosity Approach@ check out our wealth of pocket size courses, team gatherings and signature programme ‘ The Curiosity Approach Accreditation.’ 

The blog was written by Stephanie Bennett and is subject to copyright legislation. Respect the intellectual material of The Curiosity Approach® we give freely but wish our work, words and knowledge to be given the credit it deserves. 

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