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Playing Dress-Up to Build Skills

Getting dressed is a vital daily self-care task for kids on their journey to independence, and playing Dress-Up is a great way to strengthen all of the skills required to dress and undress oneself.

At A Glance

1. Playing Dress-Up develops coordination, gross and fine motor skills, and creativity.

2. Creating a Dress-Up Station is a fun, easy way to promote dressing independence and build skills.

3. Children reach dressing "milestones" as they learn to dress themselves.

Playing Dress-Up Builds Skills

Take a moment to think about all of the motor skills needed to get dressed on your own: reaching, bending, and rotating in all directions, maintaining balance while sitting and standing (maybe even on one foot), recognizing where a body part is without looking, motor planning through multiple steps, and coordinating both sides of the body to work together. Plus, fine motor skills are required to manipulate fasteners (i.e., buttons, snaps, buckles, or zippers) found on many items we wear every day. In addition to these gross and fine motor skills, playing Dress-Up encourages creativity and it's so much FUN.

DIY Dress-Up Station

Creating your own Dress-Up Station is as simple as collecting clothes, storing them for easy access and clean-up, and hanging a mirror at just the right height.

COLLECT CLOTHES. A grown-up's closet is a great place to start because recycled clothes are FREE, and loose-fitting items are much easier to take on and off for little ones than fitted clothes. Plus, repurposing an old scarf, hat, or jacket requires more creativity than a pre-made costume. Of course, last year's Halloween get-up can definitely join the mix, especially if it has accessories (e.g., crowns, tails, etc.). Be sure to include items with different types of fasteners that add a challenge. Keep in mind that buttons and necklaces can be a hazard for young children, so use care when selecting items.

STORE IT ALL. Storing Dress-Up clothes should be about making clean-up easy. After all, learning to put away your clothes is just as important as learning to put them on! Keep in mind that hanging up clothes on hangers is too challenging for young children. I use an $8 laundry basket from Ikea because it zips closed and holds quite a bit without taking up much space.

ADD A MIRROR. Hanging a mirror at kid-height is a good way to help your child track their own progress (i.e., Did I put that jacket on upside down again?) It also helps them marvel at their own creativity. Another option is to keep a hand-help mirror inside the barrel for portable play.

Dressing Milestones for Kids

Watch for these Dressing Milestones. Keep in mind these are general guidelines because children develop skills at different times.

  • 1-Year-Old: Takes off socks and shoes. Pushes arms through sleeves.

  • 2-Year-Old: Undresses independently. Pulls pants up and down.

  • 3-Year-Old: Pulls on shirt and shoes. Zips.

  • 4-Year-Old: Fastens buttons and pulls on socks.

  • 5-Year-Old: Dresses independently!

  • 6-Year-Old: Ties shoes. Fastens all kinds of fasteners.

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