My older son attended a charter school for kindergarten last year that incorporated a dress code with specific parameters. The children were expected to meet a minimum standard in their attire and were encouraged to “dress for success” by making sure that their clothes were clean, shirts were tucked in and that belts were worn (and threaded correctly). My son, being a bit of a fashion-savvy kid, insisted on following the standards set for the middle school boys which included white button-down shirts, ties and either sweater vests or sport coats. All the frustration of coordinating his efforts to dress for success evaporated when he would remind me “when you look good, you feel good!” And I felt a lot of pride watching him walk into the school, dressed well and feeling confident. His school and I were able to work together to make sure that he was comfortable and ready to learn.

My younger son is three and attends full time child care so that I can work. He is at the wonderful age where he wants to do things for himself, and that includes not only combing his own haiLearning Is Messyr, brushing his own teeth, and getting his own cup of milk, but also picking clothes and dressing himself. Some mornings I look at his outfit of choice and have to hold back a giggle. I used to worry about how the other parents and teachers would respond to his clothing choices. Some of his friends in daycare look like they have stepped out of mini-fashion magazines. I always make sure that he has clean clothes to wear, but I can be convinced that a favorite shirt with a small stain is still “wearable” if he asks with a “please” and it makes him feel confident. I used to wonder if his teachers judged me on what I sent him to daycare wearing.

I say “used to” because I had a wonderful conversation with a teacher a couple of years ago about how to best dress my child for his day. My son’s teachers have plans every day for the children in their care to play, learn, create and explore. A child’s “work” is play… and sometimes that play gets messy. My child is encouraged to be responsible for washing his hands, using the bathroom, and feeding himself using the correct utensils… and sometimes his efforts end up as a food-stain on his shirt or soap-stains on his pant legs from rubbing his not-quite-rinsed hands on his pants to dry. The children are also encouraged to use paint, clay, markers and other “tools” to express their creativity. Sometimes the evidence of his creativity comes home on my son’s sleeve or in his hair. My son’s teachers don’t want to have to worry about his clothing staying clean and pressed… they want be able to focus on his safety and on guiding his experiences. And you know what? I want them to be able to focus on those priorities, too!

I encourage you to talk with your provider about how you can best work with them to send your child into their care, comfortable and ready to learn.