Making dinosaur costumes for your kids is an underrated parenting skill
In this week’s Chubby Hubby, Portly Papa column, Aun Koh reveals one of his secrets to impressing the young ones – creating diplodocus and Elsa costumes from scratch.
There are a few things you learn as a parent that you never thought you needed to know. One of these things are the names of every dinosaur that has walked our planet.
Our eldest kid (T1) was absolutely obsessed with these mammoth reptiles, as were many of his friends. Like a mini Rain Man, he learnt as many dinosaur names as possible and would repeat them to anyone and everyone.
He was also eager to learn about them, which meant mama and papa had to read him countless books that explained the uses of the stegosaurus’ back plates and the club-like tail of the ankylosaurus. He knew the sizes of the different dinosaurs and could identify the carnivores from the vegetarians. He loved imitating the different dinosaurs and happily consumed every episode of Jim Henson’s fabulous animated TV series Dinosaur Train.
We, of course, indulged his passion, purchasing books, toys and even a dinosaur onesie that he used for dress-up. He chose the bandung-coloured T-Rex fleece onesie because pink is his favourite colour.
When we visited Japan to see snow, T1 begged to wear the onesie (his argument was that it would keep him warm). I could barely keep my laughter in check watching this 100 cm pink, fluffy dinosaur waddling around. To his credit, he kept it on through dinner.
T1 went to a fantastic Chinese-language focused kindergarten and nursery school. The school, noticed the love its young pupils had for dinosaurs quickly made studying “kong long” part of its K1 curriculum.
T1 has since graduated and is now in Primary 2. But his sister T2 is in K1 this year. "Kong long" is still part of the K1 curriculum but she is not as obsessed with dinosaurs as T1 was. Her favourite, she likes to tell me, is the “liang long”, the diplodocus.
The other parenting skill I never thought I’d need to master is costume making. But it’s one I’ve had to become very good at over the years. The school we send our kids celebrates every end of term with a dress-up party. That meant yummy treats and costumes! The latter of which, as parents, you either have a choice of purchasing or making. For me, that usually means the latter.
In my opinion, I think it is more meaningful when you take the time to make something for someone you love. That’s also why I enjoy cooking for my wife and kids. But cooking is something I have been doing regularly since my university days. Costume making is a whole other multiverse I cannot even begin to understand.
And they can’t wear just any costume because of the prescribed theme. The theme relates to a particular subject they’ve been studying that term. Last term, for example, I was told the theme was “weather or states of water”. Then I remembered that T1 had the same theme when he was in K1. In fact, we still have his old costume in storage. He asked to be both a cloud on a sunny day as well as one on a rain, thundery day.
Yes, I actually let the little ones have creative control on what their costumes should be. T1’s costume was made mostly of hollow fill – that fluffy stuff you can buy in bulk at Spotlight to fill stuffed animals. I made 2 clouds – one cloud was decorated with a bright yellow sun and a rainbow made of felt, while the other was spray painted dark and emblazoned with lightning bolts and fat rain drops. The 2 clouds were held together by a ribbon harness that was relatively easy to take on and off. When worn, one cloud would be in front and the other on his back so T1 could choose if he wanted to show his sunny or stormy side.
Since we still had the cloud costume, we asked T2 if she’d like to use it. That, as you might imagine, did not go down well. After a lengthy discussion we settled on an ice princess (yes, that girl from Frozen) which resulted in me spending many evenings hand-applying hundreds of tiny, clear coloured rhinestones to a flowy, pale blue-grey dress that I bought.
For this week’s class party, T2 asked to go as a “liang long” which made me pause for the longest time. I mean, how in the world was I going to design and create the diplodocus’ long neck and make the costume wearable. I considered using paper mache to build the long dinosaur neck and head which my baby girl would have to put over her own head. But she wouldn't be able to see nor breathe with the giant paper mache sculpture sitting on her shoulders. That idea was quickly set aside because it was simply unrealistic.
Eventually, I came up with the idea that her arms could be great substitutes for the long neck and tail of the dinosaur. I sketched out the basic concept and pitched it to my miniature client. What sold her on the idea was the hand puppet I would build as the head, of which she’d be able to control with her tiny hand. The other hand would get another “glove” that would be the end of the dinosaur’s tail.
The idea worked well on paper and she bought it. But making it was a messy, slightly exasperating exercise. Gluing together the diplodocus’ body was relatively easy – that got affixed to a store-bought long-sleeve shirt.
The hard part was the head. I had never built a hand puppet before. Thank the parenting gods for Google and YouTube. A couple of tutorials later (well, plus a more few hours) and the costume was done. All held together with fabric glue and a parent’s love.