Dressing For Mastery

When shopping for your preschooler’s back-to-school clothing this year, be mindful of your child’s budding need for self-reliance.

Starting around age 3, children often want to dress and undress themselves, and these inclinations should be encouraged.  Complicated or tight fitting clothing can be discouraging to even the most enthusiastic of learners.  They're just too hard to deal with.

True, it is easier, especially during hectic mornings, to quickly dress your kids.  However, independent dressing is an important developmental milestone, as well as a confidence booster.  Little hands develop crucial motor skills, and young minds learn logical thinking, concentration, and order.  Dr. Montessori placed high importance in this regard:

Any child who is self-sufficient, who can tie his shoes, dress or undress himself, reflects in his joy and sense of achievement the image of human dignity, which is derived from a sense of independence.
~Maria Montessori

As long as children are still mastering these skills, they will need a little extra time; you may need to set the alarm for a few minutes earlier on school days. Here are a few more tips to help with teaching kids to dress themselves:

  • Choose what to wear the night before to save time and frustration in the morning.  My youngest son likes to pick out the entire week's worth of  "outfits" every Sunday night.  I try to have all the laundry clean by then, and he stacks the clothing (undies and all) neatly in his closet.
  • Minimize distractions, especially the television, to help little sleepy-heads stay on task.
  • Err on the side of big: buy clothes on the larger side.
  • Choose elastic over buttons and belts.
  • Do teach kids how to tie their shoes. It is not too early!
  • To save yourself a few headaches, steer clear of power struggles with kids over clothing choices.  If your child wants to wear mismatched socks or unusual color combinations… just take a keepsake photo and embrace your child’s creativity!

In school, children should be able to use the restroom, add layers for outdoor time, and change out of wet or soiled clothing independently.  Clothes should be loose fitting, free of awkward clasps or buckles, and easy to move in.  Additionally, kids should be able to participate in painting and other “messy” activities without the fear of ruining a cherished article of clothing.

So, do try to resist the temptation to purchase cute but cumbersome clothes for school.  (Oh all right, just a few items.  Perhaps you could save them for special occasions.)  When it comes to school-wear, kids will still look adorable in clothes that allow for learning!

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