Children in an adult world may often feel small and insignificant. Doll play can be instrumental in developing young children’s confidence in their ability to solve problems and interact with their environment. Pretend play, especially doll play, has a crucial role to play in all areas of development for young children.
Simple role play can be observed in babies and toddlers, as they begin to use objects as symbols and imitate behaviours. True doll play begins around 24 months, allowing young children to explore their world and imitate the actions of those looking after them through caring, nurturing and playing with dolls. From about 3 years, children assume roles for themselves, beginning with the most familiar, mummy and daddy. As these roles become more comfortable, children will begin to assume multiple roles by using dolls as characters they have observed, either real or fantasy, such as a doctor, princess or superhero, enabling high level engagement in elaborate fantasy play, contributing massively to all areas of development.
All dolls for young children should be inclusive and offered with equal respect, as a celebration of all children’s similarities and differences. It is important to provide dolls representing different ethnic groups and cultures which are reflective of the diverse world we live in. Dolls with visible differences, i.e. wearing glasses or hearing aids, Downs features, dolls with no hair, should also be available as part of an inclusive environment, helping to develop a child's self-esteem, self-recognition and confidence, whilst celebrating difference and diversity. Realism is another key consideration, as young children typically prefer dolls which look like real babies with anatomically correct features and moveable arms and legs. Soft dolls are also great for circle time, encouraging even the most shy and timid children to join in, helping them to explore a range of issues in a non-threatening way.
It is important to remember that a doll is much more than just a toy; it’s a link between two worlds, children’s and adult’s. Children have a natural desire to imitate and dolls often become the first props in pretend play, allowing them to practise their future roles as adults and helping to develop a nurturing attitude towards others. A doll can become a friend and companion, to share feelings, hopes, dreams and adventures, and should be an essential part of every inclusive environment for young children.
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