Dress sense;Consumer report

23rd April 1999 at 01:00
Sue Hubberstey looks at how pupils learn about others through dressing up.

Other than in nursery and Reception - where dressing-up clothes still play a strong part - role-play items have had a low profile since the national curriculum and the national tests came into being. Drama activities of any kind are almost non-existent in many schools and often the only opportunity children have to dress up is for the Christmas play. This is a pity since dressing up offers plenty of learning experiences relevant to many curriculum areas, including social, personal and health education.

From an early age most children find it easy to assume a new identity just by putting on a hat, a jacket or a cloak. By putting themselves in someone else's shoes they learn to empathise with others. Shy or troubled children often find it easier to express themselves when pretending to be someone else. A good selection of dressing-up clothes can also help to break down sexual stereotypes. What a pity, then, that an activity with so many benefits has fallen by the wayside for all but the very youngest.

There is, however, a glimmer of hope that drama and role-play could be making a comeback - there is certainly some scope for it in the literacy hour format.

Three Bears Playthings has already seized on this - its latest range includes Ready to Act dressing up sets "for story telling and instant plays". Currently, the sets available relate to traditional fairy stories, such as Red Riding Hood, The Three Little Pigs, and Goldilocks and the Three Bears. There is also a Peter Pan set. Complete sets range from pound;59 to pound;92 but items can also be bought separately. Everything comes in two sizes, for ages four to six, and six to eight.

This company also does a range of "people who help us" costumes. Apart from the usual police, fire or crossing-patrol person there is also a supermarket set, a hairdresser beautician and a fast-food operative who boasts a "WacDonald's" logo on a red and yellow uniform.

All the costumes come in tabard form so they can be easily put on over normal clothes. All Three Bears' costumes are machine washable. Single items are priced from pound;8 upwards.

The role-play clothes from Step by Step are also designed to be worn over the children's clothes. These are mainly suitable for nursery and Reception, with a chest size up to 30ins. The range includes a clown outfit (pound;16.30), a guardsman (pound;26.95), a pirate (pound;13.80) and a wedding dress and veil (pound;16.75).

If you are looking for a multi-cultural selection, Hope offers clothes depicting costumes from China, Japan, Africa and India (pound;19.95 each) but in a size mainly suitable for under fives. J amp; M Toys supplies saris, kimonos, or outfits classified as Eastern Princess, Chinese boy, Asian girl and boy or Afro-Caribbean girl and boy, to fit children up to about eight, from pound;10.50. One problem is that these types of costume tend to be generic and disregard differences within a culture, so some teachers may find them unacceptable.

That said, there are plenty of other goodies in the J amp; M catalogue, particularly the fantasy costumes covering wizards, witches, dragons and dinosaurs. All are made in two sizes to fit children from three to five and five to eight. Most feature Velcro fastenings and everything is machine washable.

If it is historical costumes you are after you will find a good range of items to choose from in the History in Evidence catalogue from TTS. On offer are classical Greek, Saxon, Tudor and Victorian costumes (from pound;18 for the Victorian School girl's apron and cap to pound;63.65 for a rather splendid Henry VIII outfit based on a 16th century portrait). These costumes are beautifully made but can be hand-washed only.

If funds are tight and full sets of dressing up clothes are out of the question, you could invest in a Prop Box from LDA. This contains a police hat, an eye patch, a witch's hat, two wigs (one blonde, one black) and a "bald head" (all of which will no doubt cause some hilarity in the staff room), a tiara, several crowns, some nasty looking "warts" and some face paints. Pretty good value for pound;29.95.

further information contact Hope 0161 633 6611J amp; M Toys 01274 599314LDA 01945 463441Step by Step 0845 300 1089Three Bears Playthings01669 620315TTS 0800 318686

A teacher has his say...

A selection of clothes from the companies mentioned was sent to a primary school and the deputy head gave us his verdict.

He told us: "I thought the Red Riding Hood set from Three Bears Playthings was a good resource for the price. It proved useful with Year 1, which was studying this fairy story. As well as using them for role-play and drama activities, they can be used as part of the literacy hour as a stimulus for character writing - asking questions about who they thought would wear the costume, for example. Parts of the costumes could also be used as an introductory activity by revealing a piece at a time and asking the children to guess which story they came from.

"The 'people who help us' costumes from Step by Step would be a valuable resource. These are like the costumes used by visiting groups when they come to talk to the children about safety.

"As far as TTS's historical costumes go, my personal view is that it is better to have one piece of costume or prop per pupil in a group - say about six items in all. As these are more likely to be used with older pupils, I find that they only need one item to get them into a role. Hats are good for this reason but I wasn't sure about the fez a couple of companies sent - I've visited Egypt and never once saw anyone wearing one. I did not distribute any of the Asian costumes because we have many Asian children within the school and also because I thought they provided a rather stereotypical interpretation.

"My favourite was the LDA Prop Box. I have found it particularly good in group sessions involving children with emotional and behavioural difficulties."

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