Dressing Frames are an important part of the Practical Life Montessori Curriculum. They enable children to learn how to dress themselves, their dolls, and help others too! It gives them confidence and independence, and is a major step in potty training (When you gotta go, you need to be able to undo the button and zipper on your shorts quickly!).
That being said, I was excited about dressing frames. They just seemed like such a neat concept to me. I went ahead and purchased 3 dressing frames that were commercially made. And I demonstrated them to the children, put them on the shelf....and nothing happened. They weren't interested at all. Trying not to be a little disappointed, I waited a couple of weeks, and brought them out again. The kids still ignored them. No, actually my son drug one of them around by the laces like he was walking a dog. So, I tried to think of something to make them more interesting.
I came up with this idea. I took some clothes that we weren't in love with anymore, and I made my own dressing board. I took a large, finished, square piece of wood, and affixed homemade "dressing frames" to it using finishing nails. I made sure the fabric couldn't be pulled off by pulling on it myself for a while with some force. I actually sewed pieces of the clothes that I had cut apart- part of a shirt that snapped up (including the pocket that snaps closed), a portion of a skirt that used to button up the front, a zipper section from a sweatshirt. The kids like that these are REAL clothes that they are practicing on, instead of a unfamiliar dressing frame with plain fabric. They also enjoy that the board is large enough for both of them to work on it at once. One child can be zipping, while the other is snapping! The board I had handy to use for this project is heavy, so I usually leave it out so the children aren't trying to move it themselves. You can also lean it against the wall and allow the children to work on it vertically. I take the board away every so often, and cycle it back in later and it keeps their interest, like it is new again when it comes back out! This particular dressing board only has 3 skills on it-zipping, buttoning, and snapping. As they get a little older, I will make another one (or put on the flip side of this board) more skill levels such as laces, ties, and buckles.
If you don't want to spend the money purchasing new commercial dressing frames, this may be a good option for you. If you can't find any clothes to use at home, just make a run out to the nearest thrift shop and pick up some for just a few dollars! You may be able to use a staple gun to attach the clothes to the board, just make sure to tug on it yourself first to ensure it is attached on there securely, and run your hands over it to check and see if there are any sharp parts of the staples sticking out. If you use nails, be sure to use small enough nails where they won't poke through the back of the board, leaving sharp points to scratch and poke small hands. I recommend using a board with a finish on it so you won't worry about the possibility of splinters. I also chose to sew my pieces of fabric to a tougher piece of fabric first (like the type you find bookbags made out of) and nailed that to the board so that the nails wouldn't tear through the thinner material of the clothing. My 1940's Singer sewing machine was giving me fits that night, so you might notice the seams aren't straight, but I was just glad to get it working (it usually works like a charm, I guess it just felt tired that night!). So, that's it! A few months practice with dressing frames, and your child will be zipping, buttoning, lacing, and snapping their way to independent dressing!