Columnist Melissa Bernstein is the co-founder and co-CEO (with husband Doug) of Melissa & Doug LLC, a leading designer and manufacturer of educational toys. Started nearly 23 years ago “in a garage” with their combined meager savings, Melissa & Doug has grown to become one of the most trusted names in preschool toys. Through its unique distribution network of nearly 15,000 retailers and presence in 80 countries worldwide, Melissa & Doug has sold over $1 billion of toys and has created nearly 2,000 proprietary products spanning virtually every category of children’s play. Melissa lives with her husband Doug in Westport, Conn., and their own personal “test market” their six children ages 3 to 17.
The anticipation of Halloween generates excitement in children unrivaled by virtually any other holiday. The ability to truly take part in the holiday and choose exactly how they will be dressed gives children a tremendous sense of power and investment in the day. But the ultimate thrill comes in actually putting on their costume and displaying it to the world!
There is nothing more enthralling for a child than pretending to be someone or something he is not, and concealing the truth of who he really is from the outside world. Let’s be honest, that’s a lot of fun for adults, too! What a wonderful opportunity to escape and explore the world from the perspective of someone else for a brief period of time. That makes Halloween a favorite of both young and old. Yet although Halloween is the only day of the year when children and adults everywhere are given official license to dress up, it shouldn’t be! At Melissa & Doug, we believe that role-play is a crucial, year-round activity and shouldn’t be put removed and placed into a closet on November 1!
Role-play is a critical form of pretend play, and a crucial aspect of early childhood development. It is also one of the best ways to help a child to develop an understanding of the world. When children are given the opportunity to choose a character they wish to portray, they are given the ability to explore the areas they are most interested in.
Dressing up helps children (and adults) get rid of their fears and inhibitions, and be free to “act out” something they may not be comfortable expressing on a daily basis. Children develop social awareness and self-confidence and are more open to exploring themselves and expressing pent-up thoughts or ideas. Role-play offers an excuse to let go of one’s inhibitions and be free. Such free, unstructured creative play offers tremendous benefits developmentally. It builds strong imaginations and fertile, innovative minds!
The best costumes are those which truly transport children to another place where they can begin to believe or act as the character they’re portraying actually would. In everyday life there are rules of conduct, and people may be viewed as odd if they go around town acting like wild animals, witches, or superheroes. But under the umbrella of make-believe, such behavior is not only desired but embraced! Testing the personas of different characters is a great way to teach children about different roles and their various behaviors. A pirate can talk with an accent; a police officer can speak with authority; and a chef can devise tantalizing recipes for an enthusiastic audience. Role-playing involves improvisation, having an awareness of how different characters act and portraying their characteristics and emotions!
The best aspect of pretend play is that it is completely universal. All children love to dress up. I have never met a child who hasn’t enjoyed being someone else, if only for a brief period. Usually the struggle is in getting the child to remove the costume and assume his prior persona.
You can easily incorporate dress-up and pretend play into your time with the kids. You can work with them to create a special dress-up or pretend play closet or chest in your home that they can explore whenever they visit. Accessories such as jewelry, makeup, wigs, and hats add to the fun. Role-play is a sure-fire, guaranteed recipe for a wonderful day. The grandchildren will anticipate every visit, and never want to leave!