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There are few adults who spend any time with kids who haven’t heard of the “Toy Story” franchise. In one of the movies, the toys gather around a new playmate, Forky, created by the child who is the center of their world.

The child in the movie makes this “doll” from a fork, a pipe cleaner, and some googly eyes. Forky then becomes the little girl’s best friend.

One of the best things about these movies is that the truths are universal throughout childhood, and it shows how powerful both creation and ownership of dolls can be for any child. 

Dolls are one of the oldest toys known to mankind, and in the beginning, they weren’t made for children. For a long time, these human representations on a much smaller scale were used in the place of actual people in rituals and ceremonies (some of which were really creepy).

However, once doll play became a part of the lives of children they became a common fixture. 

We know now that this can be a great advantage for children. They can learn so much about relationships, social skills, the world around them, family roles, and life in general through doll play.

Imaginative play with dolls is often modeled after the real lives of children, and they are able to work through some complex situations when given the opportunity to role-play different scenarios and “characters” or personalities.

Here are a few dolls and activities children can use to create their own little friends (like Forky). 

Guatemalan Worry Dolls

These little handmade dolls are great for kids with lots of worries! There is a traditional story that accompanies them (you can find it here) that is in English and is kid-friendly.

Many local women in Guatemala make these for tourists, but children may find it more therapeutic to make several little worry dolls themselves. 

The tradition is for children to tell each doll they create a worry, or all their worries, and then put the doll under their pillow that night. As they sleep, the dolls will take all their worries away.

This is an excellent practice for children to learn how to prioritize sleeping or even doing schoolwork when they have a lot to think about or a lot happening in their lives. Giving them a worry doll gives them the opportunity to postpone worrying which can be a very beneficial tool for people of all ages.

Here’s a very simple tutorial that any age elementary student can do, but there are lots of videos. Some people use toothpicks for the arms and legs, and they use crafting floss rather than yarn. You can also make these with wooden pegs, clothespins, or popsicle sticks. 

Japanese Darumas

These are so great! Kids (and adults) use these to track wishes they’ve made or goals they’ve set. Kids can paint or decorate them in any way they’d like.

The eyes of a daruma doll are blank in the beginning. When the child sets the goal or makes the wish, they color in one eye. When the wish comes true, or the goal is accomplished, they fill in the other eye.

These are a bit more complicated to make. They involve either papier mache or a lightweight clay that can be air-dried. Here’s a tutorial with papier mache (it’s friendly for children but lengthy and may not be very interesting for kids - this one would probably be better watched by the teacher and the directions given to the students directly unless students are older).  

Nature-Based Doll Families

This isn’t an idea from one particular country, but many children love making families of dolls from natural materials like sticks, rocks, pinecones, or seashells.

If you live and work in the inner city and natural materials are not easy to find, you could easily use paper towel tubes, popsicle sticks, or clothespins.

To decorate families, give children access to whatever “decorating” materials you may have on hand, like permanent markers (for mature children), craft glue, fabric scraps, yarn, embroidery floss, ribbon, paint, googly eyes, beads, pipe cleaners, and anything else handy that might make clothing or doll features more interesting.

Children can choose the base for their dolls, especially if you are using natural materials. Collecting sticks and rocks for doll-making is lots of fun!. You can have them make models of their own families, allow them to invent families, let them make themselves and their friends, or even encourage them to make dolls of different moods.

You can learn quite a bit about students, their families, their friends, and their feelings using this activity.

Allow children to keep their “doll families” at school if possible. They can take them outside for recess, or they can play with them in the class during downtime.

Allowing them to be used in the classroom is another great way to watch them pretend and interact with each other. It’s a great tool for understanding children whose families may be a bit of a mystery, or even perhaps why children act the way they do. You might find that children are playing aggressively, modeling behavior that’s been happening when you are out of earshot. It’s a great way to help combat bullying in that manner.

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