I strongly believe we should make sure all children, regardless of their gender have access to dolls. This may seem obvious to many of you, but there are many parents out there who are hesitant to buy their boy a doll.
Firstly, this blog comes without judgement as I am VERY aware that we tend to parent how we were parented, and back when I was a kid, it was the social norm to believe that boys simply shouldn't play with dolls. This blog is to encourage and reassure you that buying your child/ren a doll or two (or four like me!) is something that is going to enhance your child’s learning experience in a positive way, regardless of their gender.
Children playing with dolls has nothing to do with their gender, it's nothing about femininity and it certainly won’t disadvantage your child in relation to who they are and who they will become. So let's encourage adults around us to think a little deeper as to why they feel uncomfortable with doll play and challenge them to reconsider – because every child deserves a doll in their lives to support their ever evolving social and emotional development.
A doll can very well be a child’s first friend, a blank canvas to practice the art of caring
The empathy, care and respect experienced by a child from a loving family will be passed onto their dolly, and then to Billy from down the street, then to Jamil, who is sitting on his own at lunch in yr 9 after being bullied, and ultimately carried with them for the rest of their lives.
Dolls are such an important resource in role play. Most children will use dolls through role play to make sense of their social world through re-enacting their life experience with them. This is great for their pro-social development, because it allows them to first explore and then consolidate what they are learning. This includes learning about empathy, caring for others and general social skills. Using a doll as a prop is a good idea because the process of learning includes getting it wrong from time to time and we would all rather our child throwing, pushing or hitting a doll rather than other children. Of course as children learn to coexist in a world with other children they will need some support in learning about 'gentle hands' and a doll can be the perfect prop for adults to demonstrate and for children to practice 'gentle'.
Children begin to use recognisable objects or toys to mimic what they see in their world. You might see a child pick up your phone and bring it to their ear or picking up their doll and patting it's back.
18 to 24 months
Toddlers begin to explore role playing at a deeper level. For example, they may use their doll and pretend food to have 'lunch'. In the early stages of role play, children need the item to be representational of the object in their play (for example, a toy car is the car in the play).
As the years go on children begin to use all sorts of items to make their role play more imaginative. This is where open ended materials become really handy as a simple Rainbow Coin can morph into money for the shop, a counter for a game, a pancake for breakfast or the nose on a playdough face.
(These ages are always give or take and are just a guide)
Whether you want to call it role play, imaginative play or representational play, it is all SO important. Not only does it extend children's current knowledge of how the social world works but it gives us as adults an insight into their understanding and how we can support them further.
Other Ways Dolls Support Learning
- Deepen our understanding of our children
- Children will often share their feelings, worries and identity through role modelling their thoughts through their doll e.g. “Molly is sad because she wanted to play with Joseph at the park and he said no”
- You can use a doll as a prop to teach children about new skills such a toilet learning. Children feel safer when role modelling with a doll before wanting to have a go themselves. Other life events that you can use doll for:
- transitioning to a big bed,
- building confidence to try something new – the big slide at the playground,
- practicing the words needed to make a friend – sometimes it’s easier to learn how to ask someone if you can play when you know they wont respond
- teaching body parts as well as body safety
- facilitating and bringing forward intentional inclusive conversations about body safety, gender, cultural and ability differences
So go ahead, buy a doll, make home-made dolls or get yourself pre-loved doll. There are ZERO negatives about doll play!
Did you know that we now stock a range of Diversity Dolls? You can check them out here and they have a range of benefits such as:
- they are anatomically correct so can be used to teach body safety
- no plastic packaging because we believe in creating a greener future for our kids
- Beautifully hand made in Spain
- A wide range of diversity including cultural and children with down syndrome features. (We hope to include an even more diverse range of dolls soon!)