Costume Party!

This story was first posted on Beth Curtin’s wonderful blog, Acorn Pies. She has some great project ideas for children. Beth asked me to be a guest contributor and write something on the subject of encouraging creativity in children. I decided to focus on play acting as a way for children to use their imaginations. Here, I share some memories and photographs of my sons’ pirate-themed birthday parties. Thank you, Beth, for the invitation to talk about children and creativity!

When I was a child in the 1950’s, we had a wooden chest full of “dress-ups” that included old clothes and costumes that my mother made. I remember different colored Snow White dresses that she made from this McCall’s pattern.


I continued this tradition with my own children and our dress-up box was a hit when friends came over to play. We had an eclectic pile of capes, belts, scarves and head-gear that would go together in any number of combinations. The children would spend a long time adorning themselves and then run around playing inside and out. When they were three years old, my son Ian and his friend Sam made monster masks. They would pull them down over their angelic faces, scream and growl, and then lift them up and laugh.

For the boys’ birthdays, we had our share of bowling parties and trips to the go-cart track, but the most memorable birthdays were the themed parties that were linked to a familiar story. In the late 80’s, we had several costume parties when the boys were ages 5 to 8, when kids are willing to dress up and engage in fantasy play.

Legendary characters, like Pirates were the inspiration for our parties. The stories surrounding these compelling characters could easily be translated into party activities and their exciting outlaw image was an added attraction. The boys would draw and write out their own invitations, asking their friends to come in costume.

It is advantageous to have a warm weather birthday for these parties, although we did have a Pirate party in February, complete with a make-shift pirate ship in the yard. We devised a raised, plywood floor, propped up on tree logs and added a boarding ramp. All it needed was a mast to fly a pirate flag.

For another pirate party, this time in July, the children came ready to participate.


Here they are, waiting for the pirate ship, with their cardboard telescopes.

They arrived at the island, where a bottle washed up into the shallow water off the beach and inside was a treasure map!

They followed the clues on the map and found the treasure chest full of goodies, including water pistols.

Looking back at the pictures, the life of our children looks so much simpler and not as commercial as today. We did work hard to keep our home life uncomplicated and creative. I’m sure that my mother would say the same thing about my childhood 30 years earlier. Young children are developing their imaginations and we as a society need to nurture this, but at the same time be aware of how impressionable they are. I think that being exposed to the same commercial images over and over, no matter how compelling or beautiful, stops children from seeing in their mind’s eye what something or someone looks and acts like. Even the McCall costume pattern, which was copyrighted 1938 by Disney, shows a clear connection to the animated movie that we have come to think of as the classic rendition of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, even though the story is centuries old. As for pirates, the brilliant Johnny Depp has forever imprinted his depiction in our minds. I’m not sure how to keep a child’s imagination alive, but I think that giving them an opportunity to create characters of their own, whether through art or play acting can make a difference for some and help them imagine new possibilities in the future.

In an earlier post, I’ve shared pictures of our Robinhood Party, here.

3 thoughts on “Costume Party!

  1. I agree – I have no need of a DVD player in the car, bathroom and closet. I think kids really need down time to actually let their brains have THOUGHTS and not have everything spoon fed to them. So many people let their kids watch TV while driving and eating and doing homework – What does that say? Even when we have play dates I make the kids put the electronics away…GO OUT AND PLAY !What is the point of being around other people if you are looking at a box ? Get a cardboard box and make a rocket ship – waaaaay better then Nintendo !

  2. My fondest memories of childhood involve glitter, tinfoil, empty egg cartons and brown tape. A lot of today’s kids are missing out on so much fun.

    Those pirate picture’s of the boys are utterly fantastic. Do you ever base your artworks on your old photographs?

    • Thanks for your own childhood memories, Julie. I rarely, if ever refer to photographs when making my artwork. I find that seeing the real image can inhibit me when I want a more folk art look. On the other hand, the photos of my family can help sparK memories that lead to works of art.

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