Why Play with Dolls?

Why Play with Dolls?

A viewpoint on creative play from founder Lorraine Johnson Rosner of Good Golly Miss Dolly, vintage doll enthusiast and retailer of imaginative and miniature play items.

What’s it all about? Well, it’s complicated. Firstly it can be an escape, from any troubling day-to-day realities. Maybe the child is having a tricky time with a friend or sibling? Or maybe experiencing a hard time at school? Whatever the bad things are in the “real” world, they can be eliminated in the imaginary one. Or maybe the child is just using his or her boundless imagination?

Whether the child is playing with miniature monsters, futuristic figures, tiny animals or dolls, it matters not - the child has entered another world. And most importantly, it’s entirely of their c own making - it’s not even dependant on having a friend or an adult present. The child can play alone, and they are in control. The child becomes the director of his or her own “epic “. (I use the term epic here, because not only can anything happen, but also the story never ends). As director of the epic, the child has lots of jobs – the cast has to be chosen and roles assigned, the location of each scene decided upon and the set designed, the costumes chosen, the script “written”, the plot contemplated and developed.

As a devoted doll enthusiast when I was very young, I think that playing with dolls was like making a very long-running feature film. I sat on the floor surrounded by my four dolls and all their furniture arranged in various room settings, with their clothes to hand in a box. Originally the script was based on Louisa May Alcott’s classic, LITTLE WOMEN, but as time went on, I left the confines of that beloved book, and my dolls developed their own adventures and lives, and moved into modern times. And as odd as it may sound, my dolls developed personalities - there was a helpful one, a bratty one, a sporty one, a sickly one and the comedienne – so I had a veritable cast.

Another critical ingredient in the creation of the endless epic is the location. This is where toys other than the key “dolls” come in. The futuristic figure can have a home or vehicle or enemy; the little kitty can have a bedroom, or pet or family. In the same way that providing art supplies will encourage a child’s creative expression and help motor development, providing a nicely-detailed dolls’ dwelling (whether house, spaceship, cave or whatever) will encourage what educational psychologists called role play. It’s defined as a type of pretend play where children get into character and act out a role - or in this case get their doll(s) to do so. So a well-propped room set will provide a springboard into other realms. For example, a doll’s kitchen will allow the dolls to prepare meals, celebrate holidays, eat together – and if the kitchen has been provided with pans, plates, cutlery, maybe even some fake food, then it is even more satisfying.

Of course, one of the biggest pleasures when playing with dolls is selecting their clothes. My dolls seemed to have a life largely devoted to dressing for parties – tea parties, wedding parties, costume parties, birthday parties - and then, exhausted by all that, they dressed for bed. Or they celebrated endless holidays with Christmas, occurring with amazing frequency (this gave me the chance to make them little presents out of clay or bits of fabric). And then there were picnics, then discos – you get the picture - endless events which required a dizzying frequency of outfit changes and a huge wardrobe.

So, given that a large part of the appeal when playing with miniature toys is the pleasure of having the ultimate creative control, did it start with ruffled little girls grand Victorian dollhouses, or battlefields of tin soldiers? Apparently the love of the miniature started much earlier than one hundred odd years ago - small, hand-crafted, doll–like relics have been found as remnants of most early civilizations. Documents describing dolls being used as toys have been found extant from ancient Greece, dating from around 100 AD, while Roman rag dolls have survived from 300BC!

I believe that playing with dolls is a universal instinct, so why not give the child in your life the best miniature worlds possible?

Check out Lorraine's online shop here.

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