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Imagination will often carry us to worlds that never were. But without it we go nowhere.
— Carl Sagan
In some parts of the country, October ends with children (and some adults) donning elaborate costumes and entering an exciting world of make-believe. For many grown-ups, to pretend seems like child’s play. However, as we are reminded in the above quote by Carl Sagan, imagination and pretend are conduits to new worlds of creativity and learning for young children. Many in the early education field believe that pretending is one of the most important activities in the classroom. The skills that children build while pretending span creative, social-emotional and literacy development.
When young children have fun in the dramatic play area of the classroom, they are learning about the world around them. Dressing up in different types of clothing and taking on different roles are among the ways that children learn about people and things they see all the time. Many times boys want to try wearing a dress to see what it’s like because they see their mothers, sisters and other women wearing dresses. Girls often experiment in the same way when putting on a necktie, a man’s jacket, a man’s hat, or playing construction worker with a hammer and blocks.
A preschool classroom is a safe place for children to grow and develop both intellectually and emotionally. A good preschool teacher knows that young children do not have the same concerns about gender identity as adults do. Children learn about these gender roles (what it means to be a “daddy” or a “mommy” for example) as they take on the perspective of others through dress-up and dramatic play. Many times children just want to try the same activities they see adults doing. It doesn’t make any difference to a child if the activity is usually done by a male or female.
Some adults find it worrisome that boys might want to wear dresses because they might be labeled as a sissy. Research shows that boys who play with dolls, or wear dresses, are no more likely to become homosexual men than any other boys. It is important to remember that when children engage in pretend play of any kind, they are learning more about everyday adult activities. By dressing up, pretending to cook, holding and feeding babies, washing dishes, going to work, or washing clothes children are trying on these different adult roles. We think of this as children learning about their world through play. It is important to know that pretend play is just one of the many ways that children explore the world.