Expressive arts and design: Get into character

Jenni Clarke, early years consultant and author, France
Thursday, February 7, 2019

Discover how imaginative play based on dressing up and role-play can extend children’s understanding of the world and inspire creative art works to represent their experiences.

Strips of material, sheets; blankets; hats;  caps; scarves; headbands; c
loaks; gloves; wigs;  real adult sized clothing; shoes of varying sizes; glasses; sunglasses; goggles; masks; baskets; boxes; bags; wallets; purses; belts; pegs; jewellery; watches; phones; books and pictures of people, examples of a clothing design board (search google); full length and hand-held mirrors; interesting storage containers.

Imaginative play allows young children to consolidate their understanding of the world, other people and situations. Through using and developing their imagination, children are transported to other worlds; their play does not need to follow conventional rules, so they can y, breathe underwater, be someone different, be a dragon or fairy. There are no limits to what they can create in their minds and in the real world. 

Key learning points
Children make associations between different types of clothing and character
They use clothes as an inspiration to create drawings
They develop language to describe their role-play

Key vocabulary
Invent, design, represent, character, costume, disguise.

This article looks at imaginative play based on dressing up and how it inspires exploration and experimentation of expressive art and design.

  • Playing and exploring
    Children use their imagination to use one object to represent another
    They explore another person or creature while dressing up
    They have a go at using the resources to initiate their own ideas

All settings have a dressing up rack, box, basket or chest, often lled with ready made costumes and props. I am not suggesting you throw these away but consider the following ideas to encourage more imaginative play and creative thinking. I am sure children will continue to enjoy or adapt the costumes as they wish.

Place a large basket lled with cloaks, strips of material, pegs and belts and some mirrors in an area where the children have been role-playing, in a tented space, near the climbing frame, or in the book corner.

Observe how children use the resources to enhance their play and character building. Help them to experiment with the material, creating the look they want for their play. Model drawing ideas on paper before trying to recreate it with the resources. Encourage and value their drawings and ideas. Listen to their descriptions and maybe scribe for them. Look through stories and non- ction books together and see what the witch or reman is wearing. Print out some of the characters’ pictures and place with the resources. How does this support and inspire the children’s play?

Add a large top hat shaped box full of hats, caps, scarves and headbands. Observe and join in trying on the different hats, using the mirror to try different angles and ways of wearing them. Use open ended questions to prompt the idea that each hat changes the person who wears it. Does it change the way they speak? Move? Play? Encourage the children to experiment with this idea, and do not be surprised if they use the large top hat box too.

Peg a variety of type and size gloves on a washing line indoors or outdoors. How do the children react? Join in with their play and fun, model imaginative play – maybe the gloves you put on make your hands heavy or because they are furry you turn into a cat. Encourage children to think about what if questions and ideas.

  • Active learning
    Children enjoy expanding their play as more props and resources are introduced
    They use concentration and resourcefulness to solve problems
    As they dress up they observe and listen to different ideas

Develop and deepen the play with dressing up by adding some adult size clothing and footwear. Observe how the children enjoy wearing oversized items, how they experiment with belts and scarfs to tighten or shorten the clothing. These resources often create a lovely link between home life and the setting. Listen and observe the play, support their vocabulary and creativeness.

Hang a bag of glasses from a tree or climbing frame – empty frames, plastic sunglasses, safety goggles or snorkel goggles. Watch how this changes the children’s play, who is enticed to join in with dressing up when it involves x-ray glasses? Encourage the children to change the glasses, making them speci c for a role or a game.

Talk about how the hats and glasses are props, something
to make the character they are being easier for others to understand. Discuss other props they may need and how they can be made or how these items could be used to represent something else.

Observe the children, listen to their interests and use your imagination to place dressing up props around the setting to inspire the children. You could hang animal masks in the bushes, eye patches and hand hooks in a treasure chest buried in a pile of leaves, giant and child size wellies with a golden egg in the garden, handbags and purses at the entrance to the role-play shop, cloaks wands and wigs in a star covered pop up tent.

  • Creating and thinking critically
     Children add a narrative to their play by creating their own props
    With adult’s encouragement, they use materials to create a planned design
    Open-ended questions guide children to become imaginative in their problem solving

Place accessories such as jewellery, watches, phones, bags and wallets in interesting baskets and boxes. Observe how they use these to enhance their character’s actions and look. Observe how they become more engrossed in their imaginative play as they think in more depth about what or who they are being. Perhaps the watch is a time travel device, or a necklace turns the child invisible. Scribe the children’s ideas for an object, the wilder the better.

Show the children who are interested in drawing their ideas some design board examples. Help them to make their own character design boards with their ideas, sticking on colours, objects, drawings, pictures, and scribing their ideas. Model how they can represent ideas on the board with pictures, symbols or an object.

Look at the children’s imaginative design ideas and help them to create an out t and props for their character. Remember it is the child’s vision which is important, not the practicality or usefulness. Support their trial and error when attempting to create their ideas and join in with the wildness of their imaginations.

Model and encourage them to be inventive with their designs – to wrap a beaded necklace around a scarf to make a belt, to add a watch to a hat, to use slippers to create rabbit ears. Use open-ended questions to encourage problem solving when they wish to make dragon wings or a pirate’s telescope.

Some children will invest a lot of time and energy into designing a perfect costume and they may want to have a ‘fashion’ or ‘character’ show or put on a play if they are similar characters such as from a story book. Support their organisation and play, involving other children with the planning, making cameras, posters, invitations and the nal show. Photos from this can be added to the design boards to show their imaginative thinking, problem solving and design process.

Role-play area
Place a basket of simple hats next to a table set up with a mirror, boxes of material, buttons, beads, feathers, string ribbons, glue, pegs and anything else you can imagine on a hat. Add some pictures of extreme designed hats, design paper and coloured pens. Take photos of the children’s creations and display with the other pictures.

EYFS Early Learning Goals
Through dressing up and creating props for their character the children will have the opportunity to develop and demonstrate the PSED objective: Can play in a group, extending and elaborating play ideas, e.g. building up a role-play activity with other children.



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