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How to use Halloween costumes to build brain power - love these ideas on how to take advantage of the learning opportunities of dressing up

Make Your Halloween Costume Count (and Last)

Photo credit: Justin W. Moore (www.outdoorphoto.com)

Whether you buy a costume or make it at home, they can be expensive and time-consuming. You can make those dollars and hours count by not only encouraging your child to have fun on Halloween night, but by helping her to really get into character and to learn a lot as well.

Dressing up is the ultimate form of pretending and there are amazing learning opportunities in the fun of dressing up for Halloween. In costume, you get to really feel like someone else, live in their shoes, and take on their way of being, no matter how fantastical. That ultimate level of pretend is so important to a child’s development because in a child’s wild imagination they step outside of themselves, create new stories, and use all of their brain power to imagine something foreign or even unreal.

So, how can you get more out of your child’s Halloween costume?

1) Help your child get in character.

If you can, pick a costume together. It’s not always possible, due to finances, reality, or age, but when your child has a say, she’ll be more likely to get involved. My daughter is still young and had a hard time coming up with ideas, so I gave her a choice from two options. We went to look at items related to both Pocahontas and a strawberry costume. Ultimately, the deer purse she could carry as Pocahontas was the deciding factor.

Then, once the costume is set, bring your child’s character to life. Really help your child study her character, by reading books, singing songs, watching movies, talking about the purpose of that lightsaber, or making add-on items together – like a banana basket as a candy bag for a monkey costume. For my daughter’s costume we used her deer purse to talk about how Native Americans really loved and had a special bond with animals.

2) Act it out that night.

Don’t just rush through putting on the costume and getting to the candy. Give your child a chance to be the character by encouraging dialogue and character voices. It’s also easy to take a minute to allow for some in-costume pretend time during your festivities or to add time for a children’s theater into your Halloween party. Take pictures (like I have to tell you to do that) of all the action to use later to tell a story together.

3) Keep it going.

Don’t let that costume just be a one night treat. Put it in a dress up bin for continued play throughout the year. You can also use pictures from that night to tell a story together, or create a character book of all of the costumes and characters your child has donned throughout the years. We even saved the scraps from my daughter’s Pocahontas “skirt” to make a mini-Pocahontas headband and tutu for her favorite doll. With all of that fun, the dressing up and pretending just keeps expanding and evolving into new areas of play and imagination.

Pretend allows us to shift our minds from the everyday and the concrete to the expanses of the abstract. Much like a skilled actor, when we really play out a costume, it engages aspects of self-awareness, where we begin to recognize where we end and a character begins. It also takes a great attention to detail, and challenges areas of social skills, like self-control and understanding of some else’s point of view.

How have you helped your kids get into character for their costume this year? Do you like to dress up, even as an adult, and get to be someone else for the night?

This is why I’m so happy Kim is part of our team.  She’s fantastic at teaching parents (like me) how to take advantage of all sorts of hidden learning opportunities in a fun and natural way. Now, how to get my tiger and fireman more in character this year… she’s got my wheels turning. See more from Kim on the benefits of pretend play here.



P.S. Want more simple ways to make memories with the kids this year?  Check out our new eBook!

Hands-On Holidays: Simple Ways to Make Memories from October through December - can't wait to use this with the kids this year!



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{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

susan October 22, 2012 at 11:52 am

I am now inspired to make much more of Halloween! Among other things, I think it will make a big difference for my daughter to be able to help decide on her costume. This article is full of wonderful ideas – thank you!


mpmk October 22, 2012 at 5:01 pm

Me too Susan! I’m most intrigued by the idea of helping my kiddos get into character :).


rachel October 22, 2012 at 7:35 pm

I love the idea of getting into character that night. It puts the focus back on the magic of make-believe and away from the task of getting treats. It’s fun to think of all the little characters coming out for a night of play!


Jen October 24, 2012 at 10:34 am

Fantastic ideas! I think the whole element of pretend play is what makes Halloween my favorite holiday.


Andrea :: Crafting Connections October 26, 2012 at 8:54 am

I love the idea of using costume fabric scraps to make a mini-costume for a stuffed animal or doll! I have to laugh, though, since this year my almost-3yo daughter has stated she would like to be a pilot, a pirate (but not a pirate pilot as I suggested!), a bird, and an egg beater. I’m just not sure how to get an egg beater more into character ;) At this point, it’s going to be a game-day decision!!


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