Dress For Early Learning Success

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What your child wears to preschool or child care is more than a fashion statement. It can have a direct impacts on their experience, mood, and learning. For example, clothing can:

  • Restrict Movement. An exasperated four-year-old girl runs across the playground holding her green shorts up with one hand. She is in hot pursuit of an escaped zombie. Stopping to adjust her shorts, she exclaims, “These things are so frustrating! Mom says I’ll grow into them but it’s taking forever.” Stomping her foot to accent forever, the shorts fall to the ground.
  • Limit Autonomy. Niko rushes to the bathroom to pee. She struggles with the snap on her skinny jeans. She can’t undo it. She can’t slip the tight-fitting pants down her legs, either. She leaves the bathroom to find adult help, but wets herself before she’s able to locate assistance.
  • Induce injuries. His jeans had been rolled up, but as Justin runs, they unroll. Inching over his shoe, they eventually extend four inches beyond his toes–flapping with each step. Karen, steps on Justin’s left foot-flap as she attempted to tag him. He falls face first into the mulch, blood spewing from his nose.
  • Increase Frustration. Ben’s wearing the warm wool hat his aunt Jenn made for him. It’s cold on the playground and the hat does a good job keeping his ears warm, but it itches. A lot. He’s irritated and mad at the hat. He want’s to remove it, but he’s been told he can’t do that–it’s too cold out.  He slips his mitten-clad hand under the hat to scratch, but that doesn’t help–and now his itchy hat has slumped over his left eye. Anger. Meltdown. Tears. Sobbing.

A little forethought while picking out your child’s clothing can influence the kind of day they have. When their clothing works with them, instead of against them, they are happier and more active. Here are five ways you can help your child dress for early learning success:

  • Dress For Comfort. Life is better when your shirt isn’t itchy and your jeans aren’t restricting blood flow to your lower body.
  • Dress For Movement. Clothing that’s too tight, too baggy, too billowy, or too long can make movement difficult. This frustrates kids, my make them move less, and impacts their mood and interactions with others.
  • Dress For Mess. Young children are hands-on learners. They are also still learning to manage their bodies. These two realities mean that clothing will get messy. There will be spills, splashes, and stains. It’s unrealistic to expect kids to stay clean (or caregivers to keep them that way).
  • Dress For Independence. Clothing should promote independence. Things can go horribly wrong if you’re wearing jeans, still learning to control your bladder, habitually put off visiting the bathroom until the last possible moment, and have not mastered snaps and zippers.
  • Dress For The Weather. There are many benefits to daily outside play. Kids should dress for the weather–protected from the cold in winter, from the sun in summer, from the wind and the rain when necessary.

How children are dressed impacts the adults working with them as well. Here are three things to consider in regard to staff when picking out your child’s clothing:

  • Time. The more time staff spend dealing with clothing, the less time they have for focused engagement with the children. Imagine working with a room full of toddlers who are all wearing clothing covered in snaps, buttons, and buckles that you have to wrestle every time someone needs to go potty or have a diaper changed. Clothing that slips on and off is much more efficient.
  • Extras. Spills and accidents will happen. Make sure your child always has at least one set of extra clothes available at their program so they can change and get back to playing as soon as possible.
  • Identify. It’s a good idea to label children’s clothing if you want it to come home. A room of 12 kids probably means well over 100 individual pieces of clothing. Keeping track of it all can be a nightmare (“Where is Kevin’s sock? Have you seen it? His Dad will be here in six minutes!”)

Free Download And Print Handout

I’ve put together a PDF flier based on this post for easy sharing:


If you use this document in your program, please let us know how it works for you and share ideas for improvements in the comments.

This is the first in a series of post on dressing for play. Future posts will look at footwear, clothing policies and practices in early learning settings, and respecting family culture.

Share your thoughts in the comments section.

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Jeff is an early learning speaker, toymaker, podcaster, content creator, author, and founder of Playvolution HQ who is really bad at getting his picture taken.