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imaginative play

Boys and Doll Play
Archives, Childhood, Parenting, Waldorf Dolls

Boys and Doll Play

KYLA B. WROTE TO ASK:

I am a single mother to a nearly 15-month-old little boy. I was wondering if you might be able to give me with some information on boys playing with dolls. I was hoping you could address the benefits of boys playing with dolls. I have had some disapproving comments and looks from other parents when I try and discuss this with them.

People are concerned that my son has too much of a female influence in his life,  as my son has no father and we live with my parents, but my father is a wonderful role model for my son and they have a very close bond.

People are also under the impression that boys play with trucks and girls with dolls. But I think all toys are for everybody. I thought dolls would help teach my son compassion, caring and even the beginnings of responsibility.

Please help me, Sarah. I’m feeling a little confused as to how to incorporate dolls into my son’s daily play and also how to respond to the critics. Am I best to purchase a weighted doll as my son’s first doll and put his current doll away for later? Or is he not ready yet for dolls?

SARAH RESPONDS:

There is a fear among many men that playing with dolls will make boys less masculine. Sadly, there are some women who also share this belief.

We’ve been conditioned for so many decades to think that boys play with trucks and cars and girls play with dolls and too many boys have been told that playing with dolls is for “sissies.”

This thinking needs to be changed.

Giving a boy a doll gives him the opportunity to explore his nurturing and caring side, and can teach a boy as much about being a father, just as dolls teach girls about motherhood.

Children imitate the adults around them in their play. When mothers and fathers model nurturing, caring behavior, boys and girls will imitate this in their doll play and this is healthy! It teaches children about relationships and empathy.

If a boy spends his days at home with his mother (whether she is a single parent or not) he will want to imitate her activities. This is normal.

This is natural. This is good. He is practicing parenting.

Times have changed. Today’s fathers tend to me much more involved in child-rearing than they were decades ago. It is not uncommon anymore to see a dad with a baby in a sling, or pushing a stroller.

Since children are imitative, it is natural for them to want to carry a dolly in a sling or push one in toy carriage.

And it’s curious how culturally it seems more acceptable to allow a girl to play with traditional “boy toys.” Most people don’t think twice watching a girl playing with building sets, Legos, or toy cars. In fact, many parents are now encouraging their daughters to play with these so called “STEM toys” and teaching their daughters that they can grow up to be a mother and have a career.

So why do so many adults seem alarmed when they see little boys playing with dolls or “playing house” and pretending to cook in a play kitchen? Don’t we want our sons to grow up to caring fathers and capable of cooking a meal?

We need to change our way of thinking and educate others that doll play is important if we want boys to grow up to be nurturing, caring fathers. It doesn’t make them any less masculine.

I believe that all parents of boys should give their son a doll to love. I recommend giving a boy his first doll between 18-months and three-years-old, before he has gotten the memo that boys don’t play with dolls. A one-year-old will probably have little interest in a doll other than to explore it with his senses as he would any other object.

But at 18-24 months he may start snuggling with and be comforted by a favorite soft doll. But it is around age 4-5 when children really begin imitative pretend play with dolls.

It can also be very helpful to give a boy a doll when a new younger sibling is on the way, and can help prepare your child emotionally for the new arrival. Our Heavy Baby Dolls (with their weight that makes them feel like a real baby) are wonderful for this purpose!

What if you give your son a doll and he shows no interest in it? I get this question a lot. I would advise you not to worry. Not all children are going to respond to all toys the same way. If he is too young for it, keep it around and he may show interest in it later.

Some boys become very attached to a special doll, other boys show little interest. Children are unique, just as adults are. There is no one-size-fits-all toy.

The important thing is to give provide your son with a doll and give him the opportunity to develop his nurturing and caring side through play. But remember that there are many ways that children learn to become nurturing and caring adults – the primary way is by being cared for by nurturing parents.

Finally, I’ll leave you with one of my favorite memories as an early childhood teacher as I observed the children in my class during free play. I will never forget the day when Wilson, a little boy in my class who was always full energy and joy, was pretending to nurse a dolly that was tucked under his sweater. He held the baby securely with one arm while he brandished a wooden sword in the other, engaged in a lively sword fight with another boy.

Wilson is a wonderful reminder that boys can play with dolls and be no less of a boy!

Are you the mother of a boy? Have you given your son a doll? Does he play with it? Please share your comments!

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Waldorf Toys

In Praise of Rocker Boards

If you were to ask me to recommend my one favorite Waldorf toy, I would have to tell you the Rocker Boards!

You might be surprised, because rocker boards may not yet be thought of as classic Waldorf toys. They are, in fact, a relatively new addition, but I’m confident that in very little time rocker boards will become synonymous with “Waldorf toys”—just like Waldorf playstands, Waldorf dolls, and play silks.

My Introduction to the Wonder of Rocker Boards

I’d been teaching early childhood classes in a Waldorf school for many years, but had never seen nor heard of this toy until one of my colleagues brought two of them back from the East Coast Waldorf Early Childhood Conference in 2006.

When I first saw this unusual plaything–a piece of high quality, thick plywood, about three feet long and one foot wide, curved into a perfect quarter-circle arc–I wondered how interested the children would be and what could be done with them.

I knew how beneficial rocking is for a child’s development: it stimulates the vestibular (balance) system and aids a child’s sense of proprioception (the awareness of being in one’s physical body). It seemed like a good toy for allowing rocking indoors.

I knew how important balance is for a child’s brain development, and it seemed like a good and possibly therapeutic toy for certain children.

Waldorf Wooden Balance Board | Rocker Board

What I didn’t yet know was how much children love this toy!

Rocker Boards in the Classroom

We introduced the rocker boards in our classroom in February of that year, and the children wasted no time in finding them and putting them to use.

I was amazed at all the ways they found to play with them. My limited adult thinking assumed that this was a toy for children to stand on, with one foot on either end, on which they could rock back-and-forth.

I didn’t yet realize it could be so much more!

Right away, these boards became the most popular toys in our classroom. They were the first toys the children would go to as soon as snack time was over and play time began.

Yes, children would stand on them and rock, but they found so many other uses for them:

  • The rocker board would become a slide, with one end propped up on a Waldorf playstand.
  • Tipped over, it became a bridge. The children would act out stories, like the “Three Billy Goats Gruff” and trip-trap over the bridge.
  • It became a sailboat, carrying fishermen off to sea as they cast their nets.
  • It was a pirate ship sailing through mighty storms.
  • It was a cradle for a mama (a 5-year-old) to rock her baby (a 3-year-old) to sleep in.

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Waldorf Dolls

Breast Milk Baby Doll: Delightful or Disturbing?

Have you heard about the new Breast Milk Baby doll?

It’s a toy stirring up lots of buzz and controversy. It’s been the topic of much discussion on Bella Luna Toys’ Facebook page in recent weeks, as well as on major news organizations websites, salon.com and on a number of popular parenting blogs, generating hundreds of comments.

Breastfeeding Doll

The Breast Milk Baby doll originated in Spain as “Bebe Gloton” (yes, that translates to “glutton”). It’s a baby doll that allows little girls to pretend to breastfeed. When a child holds the doll up to the flower-shaped nipples on the enclosed “fashionable” halter-top, the doll makes realistic sucking noises and wiggles.

Berjuan Toys, maker of the doll, states on its website (which, interestingly, claims that “God supports The Breast Milk Baby“:

“The doll lets young girls express their love and affection in the most natural way possible, by simulating natural nursing.”

So, what’s not to like about a doll that seeks to promote breastfeeding as normal and natural?

Well, lots, if you ask me.

Some critics claim that it encourages the early sexualization of young girls, and that it isn’t appropriate for them to be breastfeeding dolls.

I think that it’s normal and healthy for children to imitate breastfeeding (especially if they have seen their mother nurse a younger sibling), and I have observed many children, both girls and boys, doing so over the years. But at the same time, I don’t think that a young child needs to become aware of the mechanics of breastfeeding, or conscious of the purpose of her nipples at such a young age.

I recall one sweet boy who was a student in my nursery class many years ago. This boy loved to pretend to nurse one of our Waldorf dolls, which was frequently tucked under his sweater (even while simultaneously sword fighting with a friend!). I think of how the necessity of wearing a nipple halter-top to nurse his doll might have precluded the nurturing gesture of his play.

Plus one should ask the important question, “What else can this doll do besides breastfeed?” Babies don’t always eat. The less formed a doll is, the more a child can use his or her imagination to pretend the baby is laughing, sleeping, crying, playing, and so forth.

Now, I breastfed both my children until they were nearly three-years-old and you won’t find a bigger proponent of breastfeeding anywhere.  But I don’t think that children need a special doll to normalize breastfeeding. Just give a child a beautiful baby doll.

Waldorf Dolls

She doesn’t need a nipple halter-top and real sucking noises. All she needs is her rich imagination.

What’s your opinion? Love it? Hate it? Or are you somewhere in between?

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