Looking for adventure and excitement to keep your pre-schooler happy AND develop new skills? Creative dressing-up and role-play games are the answer – and you don’t even need to leave the house. They enrich the imaginative play of your toddler and pre-schooler as they explore their feelings and act out scenarios in costumes.
Whole worlds can be conjured up or recreated with these games – and they’re simple to do…
1. Play Superheroes
Generations of children have played superhero games for good reason – it’s a huge amount of fun. Transforming yourself by donning a cape or mask and using special powers to defeat the baddies and make our world a better place is a powerful, positive message.
Your little one will love emulating familiar heroes like the adventurous trio in PJ Masks who transform into problem-solving super stars in their magical pyjamas. Costumes needn’t be complex or expensive, and the simple colours of the PJ Masks’ heroes is an easy DIY with a child’s existing wardrobe.
You could even film your child transforming from their everyday self then spinning into their favourite PJ Masks hero, to make a fun little video. Once dressed up, it’s great to stay in character. Have your child colour in a Catboy face mask or Owlet face mask and then tackle some superhero tasks, like finding the villains or using their special powers of observation to spot the difference.
Child development expert and Paediatric Music Therapist Christina Lydon is a fan of superheroes. She explains: “Superheroes can be incredibly helpful in modelling to children ways to develop social and emotional skills. Often in storylines we see superheroes problem solving, working together to defeat the baddies, and overcoming dangers.”
Don’t worry if the storylines of your child’s games seem overly dramatic. “This is good,” Christina says, “as it gives an imaginative element that you can explore from the safety of your home. This appeal allows children to connect with the stories and to map these positively modelled problem-solving episodes to their own daily life.”
2. Pretend to be a grown-up
Dressing-up and role playing in ‘grown up’ jobs will build understanding of less familiar scenarios and help prepare children for new situations. Build curiosity by letting them take charge as a as a nursery teacher with toys as their pupils or let them play being a dentist or doctor. You can be their patient and enrich vocabulary too as they use pretend stethoscopes, bandages and thermometers.
Christina, as a paediatric professional who specialises in sessions tailored towards school readiness, says: “Role-play is really helpful for this as it gives opportunities for your child to explore different outcomes and different points of view in a contained and safe way. Playing together with adults means you can explore different social situations. If conflicts or difficult choices come up, you can model preferred or positive ways to try that one more time and learn together about making good choices.”
Make mealtimes special by recreating a ‘restaurant’ for your child to play kitchens. They can help by washing tomatoes and tearing up lettuce for a salad or be the waiter by carrying things to the table like their cutlery.
3. Small world dress-up with toys
Costumes aren’t just for your little one – let them dress their toys up too. A teddy bear’s picnic gains new depth as an Arctic adventure when favourite toys wear handkerchief scarves and mittens from a pair of your child’s socks. Your pre-schooler can practise their own superhero powers of precision as they hone fine motor skills working on buttons, zips and Velcro fastenings.
As your child gains confidence in a safe home environment you are empowering them to make the right decisions, Christina explains. “As a child experiences this love and belonging, they begin to develop their own sense of self esteem. With all those listed aspects in place, a child can begin to realise ‘self actualisation’, or put another way, they can truly strive for their full potential and talents in life. Role-play can be instrumental to this process, offering a safe space to really develop and explore these emerging skills.”
How PJ Masks can help your little heroes master their superpowers
PJ Masks is a show all about heroism and empowerment – and the superheroes are children! With a little help from PJ Masks’ engaging storylines and immersive activities, your little superhero can get to grips and embrace their ‘superpowers’ too, which in turn will help them develop meaningful relationships, be ready to learn in school and navigate day-to-day challenges.
There are 10 PJ Mask superpowers, and each one will help your child develop social, emotional and problem-solving skills. These are: big feelings, curiosity, persistence, friendship, memory, self-control, perception, listening, precision and movement. You can find out more and read about how you can help your superhero practice each of these superpowers at home here.
4. Turn household items into adventures
Not all children are comfortable dressing-up, but that doesn’t mean they have to miss out. Accessories like handbags, baskets and belts can be added to your dressing-up box, as well as grown up shoes or costume jewellery, because toddlers love bling! Make sure the items are safe for your little one to use – kitchen items like a plastic colander and a wooden spoon would be perfect for a knight’s armour, or an astronaut’s helmet. Let your child take a peek in a full-length mirror as well, because they will want to marvel at the transformation.
Games with props are great with helping your child build teamwork and friendship, says Christina. “I really love doing a ‘parachute’ game, in which a large sheet is held on all sides by several participants,” she says. “It is fun and intuitive to work together to make the ‘parachute’ wave up and down. Adding a teddy or ball to ‘jump’ on it is something that immediately engages young minds. Can you work together to make the teddy jump high or low, slow or fast? It is lots of fun and also encourages listening and turn-taking, which are crucial skills for friendships.”
5. Create a Superhero action course
Children are full of energy – and that needs burning off every day. You can incorporate dressing-up games into special events, like holding your own indoor superhero action event or creating a mini assault course in your living room. Your little one will need all of their superhero powers as they race through, round, over and under the challenges, working on their motor skills as they leap, run and jump- in true Catboy style.
Use soft cushions as stepping-stones across the carpet to work on balance and hold a child-friendly egg and spoon race with a wooden spoon and a balled-up pair of socks. Can your pre-schooler improve their time as they go around? Encourage them to keep trying at a tricky section to show them persistence pays off. Let them create their own course too – and have a go yourself!
As part of the fun, you can even use the downloadable PJ Masks Action Spinner to get your child to perform different actions like flapping their arms or jumping five times as they complete their action course.
6. Turn out the lights – and let your child lead with their imagination
Adding a torch to the dressing-up box can transform games and allow children to grow in confidence because they’re in control. A simple den made with blankets or sheets over the chair backs can turn into a fairy palace or a sturdy fortress once you close the curtains, turn out the lights and let your little one shine the torch. Dress-up costumes take on a magical air with the lights turned low, and letting your child hold the torch signals to them that they are in control.
Allowing your child to take the lead in dressing-up games helps them feel empowered, as Christina explains. “Listening to your child and making sure that they know that you’ve heard about their likes and interests is really important in them developing positive self esteem and knowing in themselves that their ideas and interests are important to their adult,” she says. “Embrace your child’s unique interests no matter their favoured topic or gender. They will amaze you!”