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In pre-K, pretend play becomes a serious business for most children! This can be a magical time for you and your child. You can support pretend play in all kinds of ways, including by providing appropriate materials for your child. While you have all kinds of costume choices, I recommend buying Melissa and Doug dress-up costumes.
I’ve been in Early Childhood Education for over a decade. It’s always exciting to see the way young children work to understand and make sense of their world. They do this through pretend play starting at around age 3 until age 6 or 7. During this important time, we know that pretending helps kids learn how to process things like big emotions. It also helps them understand relationships and the greater world around them.
Maybe your child loves pirates and mermaids. Maybe they’re obsessed with construction workers and firefighters! Costumes are a great way to tell kids that you support the important work of pretending. I’ve used many Melissa and Doug role-playing sets and kits over the years. I had them in all my classrooms.
Today, I continue to give them as gifts. If you want my suggestions on the best Melissa and Doug dress-up costumes, keep reading!
- 1 Melissa and Doug Dress Up Costumes – The Bottom-Line Up Front
- 2 My Top Picks at a Glance
- 3 Tips for Picking Dress Up Clothes
- 4 Pros and Cons of Choosing Melissa and Doug
- 5 How to Navigate Melissa and Doug Costume Options
- 6 My Selection Criteria for Melissa and Doug Dress Up Costumes
- 7 Overall Theme
- 8 My Picks for the Best Melissa and Doug Dress Up Costumes
- 9 Best Overall: Doctor Role Play Costume Set
- 10 Best Real-Life Role Play: Server Role Play Costume Set
- 11 Best Fantasy Role Play: Magician Role Play Costume Set
- 12 Best Play Set: Super Smile Dentist Play Set
- 13 Best for Outdoor Play: Let’s Explore Hiking Play Set
- 14 Best Melissa and Doug Dress Up Costumes: FAQs
Melissa and Doug Dress Up Costumes – The Bottom-Line Up Front
On my list of the best Melissa and Doug dress-up costumes, I chose the Doctor Role Play Costume Set for best overall. This set is beautifully constructed. You’ll love the interactive accessories that come with it! I love this set because anyone can be a doctor. Also, role-playing can help children overcome medical fears and learn the value of caring for others.
Melissa and Doug have a wide range of pretend playsets. If you keep scrolling down, you’ll see the ones I’ve also chosen which I think are the best options in a few different categories. Below you can also find my tips on choosing the right dress-up clothes for your kids.
My Top Picks at a Glance
I’ve chosen 5 categories for the best Melissa and Doug dress-up costumes based on what I know about early childhood development and the role of pretend play. In this post, you can read my breakdown and opinion on each of these picks.
- Best Overall: Doctor Role Play Costume Set
- Best Real-Life Role Play: Server Role Play Costume Set
- Best Fantasy Role Play: Magician Role Play Costume Set
- Best Play Set: Super Smile Dentist Play Set
- Best for Outdoor Play: Let’s Explore Hiking Play Set
Tips for Picking Dress Up Clothes
There are dozens of Melissa and Doug dress-up costumes and kits to choose from. Instead of going through them all first, start by observing your child. Think about the things that they play with already. What are they interested in? What do they talk about? Do they already pretend to be a princess? Do they like to help you cook in the kitchen?
Also, think about where your child is in their development. Children start to show interest in the people around them at about 3-years-old. They might see a parent caring for a baby or setting the table for dinner. These are the types of things they’ll first mimic through pretend play. At around 4-years-old, their world gets bigger. Now they might pretend to go to the grocery store or deliver the mail.
Finally, I encourage you to keep things simple when picking dress-up clothes for your children. Most Melissa and Doug role play costumes come with at least 2 accessories. For example, the astronaut costume is a suit that comes with gloves and an astronaut helmet. Leave the rest up to the imagination of the child. If they need help coming up with ways to pretend, show them! The goal is to get their minds going.
Pros and Cons of Choosing Melissa and Doug
I’ve previously written guides that go more in-depth about Melissa and Doug, the company. There, I talk about how they’ve been around for more than 30 years and led the way when it comes to affordable wooden toys. They continue to hold themselves to high standards. This is a big plus for the company.
Another benefit is that they work closely with the American Academy of Pediatrics and other early childhood development experts. Their toys are geared toward children from birth to 8 years old. Melissa and Doug strive to make toys that are not only safe for children in this age range but make toys that children want to play with and learn from.
One of my favorite parts of purchasing from the company is that their website is easy to navigate. Also, it features lots of beneficial information to help you make the right choice for your child. You don’t have to be a teacher or pediatrician to understand all the helpful details they give you! You can search for toys by categories like age, child skill, or play experience.
With all the Melissa and Doug products I’ve used over the years, there are a few things I count against them. First, they’re making sweeping efforts to create sustainable, eco-friendly toys. At the same time, all their dress-up costumes are made of 100% polyester. They’re partnering with the Sustainable Packaging Coalition in 2022, so I hope to see them follow this up with a program for use of recycled and more organic materials in their toys.
Also, they outsource all their toys to be manufactured in Asia. While this keeps prices low, it’s also the source of what led to a recall in 2009. Wooden toys were found to be carrying traces of heavy metals. This appears to be the only recall they’ve gone through of this kind, so there’s no reason not to trust them. However, it’s something people might want to know of when making the best choice for their family.
When you go to the website, you’ll find all their dress-up costumes under Pretend Play.
- Hovering your mouse over “Shop.”
- A queue will appear below. Click on the first option: “Pretend Play.”
- Click on the icon of a child in a police costume with the words “Role Play.”
From there, everything’s in one place and it can feel a little overwhelming. However, I’ve found that there are three types of Melissa and Doug role play costume items.
There are role playsets, which are the actual costumes with small accessories. Then there is a variety of role-play kits, like a pirate’s flag and treasure chest kit, which you can buy in addition to the pirate role play costume that’s also available. Roleplay kits also include a new line specifically geared towards encouraging outdoor exploration.
Finally, there are a few accessory sets, like dress-up shoes and necklaces. Those are pretty basic and I won’t be including them in my best-of list. However, I wanted to mention that they’re there if you want them!
My Selection Criteria for Melissa and Doug Dress Up Costumes
There are a few specific criteria I used when looking for the best Melissa and Doug dress-up costumes. You can use the same criteria when shopping on your own or use my top picks below as a guide!
The first thing I considered was the overall theme of each role-play costume set. I tried to keep things as broad and simple as possible for the largest number of children. For example, the spy costume would be great for an older child who is aware of that role, but the doctor set is a concept that is easier to grasp for more children.
I looked at the accessories that came with each costume set. First, a larger number of accessories is the biggest bang for your buck! Also, I considered the relevance to small children and what they expect each character to do. I looked at whether the accessories were developmentally appropriate, and if they were things that interest children.
Pretend play is important for developing healthy social-emotional skills, like self-control and the ability to communicate. You can help children understand the power of caring for others and having courage by pretending to play roles like policemen or veterinarians. I steered clear of characters like cowboys that can still bring up feelings of divisiveness for some groups.
I tried to make each category an outfit everyone could wear. When choosing role-playing costumes, we should think about our own expectations around gender. Boys make great pediatric nurses and girls don’t have to wear a skirt to be a server! I also looked for outfits that were easy to put on and weren’t restricting in case of things like braces or wheelchair access.
My Picks for the Best Melissa and Doug Dress Up Costumes
Best Overall: Doctor Role Play Costume Set
The Doctor Role Play Costume Set by Melissa and Doug is a lovely color-coordinated set. Besides a doctor’s coat made to fit a child between 3- and 6-years-old, you also have 7 accessories. I love how the accessories are interactive while still encouraging a child’s imagination!
Have your child check your heart with the stethoscope. Push the red heart button on the top and it makes a heartbeat noise! Have them check reflexes, take your temperature, or inspect your ears with the otoscope. My favorite pieces are the pocket ID and syringe.
Many children are reminded of pain and unfamiliar metal doctor’s instruments when they think of going to the doctor. Give them back their courage and control with this dress-up set. They’ll learn how to gently care for others, gaining compassion along the way. This set is also great for role reversal, which teaches children to be flexible and think on their feet.
- Comes with 7 accessories
- Gender-neutral color palette
- You can personalize the ID with a picture and name
- The stethoscope requires 2 AA batteries
Best Real-Life Role Play: Server Role Play Costume Set
Children understand that you care for them at home. When they start to notice people out and about in the world, one of the first roles a lot of them notice are servers. Your child will love playing “waiter” in this Server Role Play Costume Set. And for children who love pink, there’s also a waitress set that’s very similar to this one!
In my career, almost every child I’ve cared for has played “waiter” at some point. It’s a great real-life role-play that helps children learn communication and the importance of asking questions. They love bringing meals to the table! Consider this set if your child loves spending time in a play kitchen set.
The server costume set comes with a roomy checkered uniform shirt, an apron, and a hat. You’ll also get a serving tray, menu, receipt, ID, fake credit card, and play money! The opportunities to expand learning are endless with this dress-up set. Support reading and math skills, as well as self-control and creativity.
- A long smock will fit children for a long time
- Beautiful menu features prices and colored images
- Includes play credit card
- A bit pricey for the set
Best Fantasy Role Play: Magician Role Play Costume Set
For 5- and 6-year-olds who are interested in fantasy pretend play, consider the Magician Role Play Costume Set. They can dress up in a bright red vest and a black cape with a red bowtie. Your kids will love the shiny black top hat that has a secret compartment for the stuffed rabbit! Do slide of hand with the included coin and card trick. You also get a magician’s wand.
Magic tricks are a great way to give children confidence. They present a unique skill in a way that impresses others. Pretending to be a magician can also help children overcome being self-conscious when speaking in public. But all the while they just think they’re playing pretending!
Melissa and Doug offer a few fantasy role-play sets, like mermaids and pirates. While the other options are fine, this set is the most inclusive for most children. This costume also offers a sense of creativity that I don’t see in the others. Encourage your magic-loving child to put together their own magic show!
- Comes with a unique set of accessories
- The fabrics are sparkly and pretty
- This costume needs to be hand washed cold
- Cape attaches around the neck, which may be uncomfortable for some children
Best Play Set: Super Smile Dentist Play Set
Melissa and Doug’s Super Smile Dentist Play Set is one of their heftier accessory sets, rather than including a costume. You and your child can witch out playing the dentist and the patient with this wonderful collection. Enjoy 25-pieces that can be used for a handful of dentistry operations!
Use the activity card to choose your procedure. Do a cleaning, a tooth extraction, a cavity filling, a braces fitting, and more. I love that it includes things like a dry-erase marker for coloring in cavities on the pretend teeth!
Visiting the dentist can feel overwhelming to children for many reasons. This set does a great job helping children explore the treatments that they’ll go through, but from the safety of home. It would also be great to teach children to floss their teeth. Or you can give this to kids who need help warming up to the idea of braces and retainers.
- Gender-inclusive playset
- You can perform a creative variety of activities
- Very detailed, down to the included retainer case
- Includes small pieces not appropriate for some younger children
Best for Outdoor Play: Let’s Explore Hiking Play Set
A new line of Melissa and Doug Play Sets includes a line of outdoor kits, like the Let’s Explore Hiking Play Set. With a big focus as an alternative to screen time, I appreciate the push to get young children outdoors more. I love all the kits in this line, but especially the hiking set.
Receive the 23-piece set, including the backpack with binoculars and a canteen! There are important things you need on a hike, like a multipurpose tool, a pretend snack bar, and a first-aid kit. The backpack can be a fully pretend set or it can be used on an actual hike. Fill the canteen and use the magnifying glass to inspect materials you observe while you’re out.
I think that the included trail guide activity book is extra special. Children can use the pencil to check off the contents of the backpack before going on a hike. They can even make notes of their surroundings with things like the weather! This set is a great way to teach children the responsible way to prepare for an outdoor excursion. Give them a sense of responsibility upfront while also encouraging a love of nature!
- Backpack straps are fully adjustable
- Includes a working safety whistle
- Extra roomy backpack for more hiking gear
- Made almost completely of non-organic material
Best Melissa and Doug Dress Up Costumes: FAQs
Answer: All their pretend outfits feature Velcro closures. You’ll see buttons on the front of many costumes, but they’re just for show. The Velcro underneath is low frustration for little hands while still being durable and high-quality.
Answer: No size is given, but they are made for children ages 3- through 6-years-old. I find that they fit a 4- to 5-year-old perfectly. They’re made to fit loosely and are forgiving. You don’t really have to worry about them being too small for most children within the given age range.
Answer: Almost all the tunics are meant to be machine washed on a gentle cycle with cold water. Most of the accessories can be wiped with a damp cloth when necessary.
Answer: While most kids will do it naturally, you can gently encourage it by you by initiating pretend play! Have a box of dress-up items and accessories somewhere accessible to your child. Remember that children learn how to pretend by observation. Give them an example by getting down on their level and showing them yourself!
Answer: Young children are developing an understanding of their world. They do this through play! It’s perfectly normal for boys and girls to explore social norms. Things that we associate with boys and girls are new to children and need to be explored healthily. This helps them create a personal identity and ideas about the world around them.