The Dolls and Their Stories
Persona Dolls and their stories provide educators with a way to engage children and encourage them to talk about ideas, experiences and feelings in a safe space.
The Dolls can be used to highlight cultural, ethnic, religious and linguistic differences, Special Education Needs and hidden disabilities. They can be used to discuss issues – for example gender, family structure, economic exclusion – that are characteristics of our modern society, and to celebrate our shared positive life events too.
To transform inanimate dolls into special friends, educators create personas for them – imaginary identities covering their ethnicity, gender and family circumstances. The similarities and differences between the Dolls and the children highlight diversity and commonality.
Introducing Dolls that do not reflect the children in the group can promote cross-cultural respect and understanding. This is particularly important where the children are all from the same ethnic or cultural group and are monolingual.
Children readily accept the Dolls. Adults, too, think of and treat the Dolls as ‘people’ they care about. By developing their own individual way of using them, the adults using the Dolls explore and challenge in a stimulating and fun way the negative values, stereotypes and prejudices that underpin exclusion and inequality.
Personas should be as stereotype-free as possible. Care should be taken that details are appropriate. Parents/carers are the best source of information while libraries, resource centres, embassies and the internet can also be helpful. Our Empowering Voices approach offers another strategy to ensure authenticity.
See also Pdf 1 for a detailed example of a persona and story.
Educators present a range of scenarios for children to listen to and talk about. For some children these can open up a world of possibilities and encourage children to imagine what it might be like to live through situations that they have not personally experienced. They are faced with a variety of make-believe problems to solve and are invited to support the Dolls in scary situations such as being bullied. For other children the scenarios presented may be similar to ones they have faced, making them feel less alone and empowering them to have a voice and, like the doll, receive empathy and support.
When used in an environment where a range of life styles, traditions, cultures and physical appearances are appreciated, carefully selected Persona Dolls and their stories encourage children to value and respect others and promote a positive attitude to difference.
Watch Bessie’s story
As well as creating stories about some of the everyday good things and the difficult, discriminatory or negative things that happen to the Dolls, educators can use them for a range of other learning activities that foster equality and inclusion as well as using them to boost children’s confidence in areas of learning that may be challenging.
In the UK and many other countries, there is a big push on younger and younger children becoming literate and many children find this challenging. The same is true with mathematics, so a Doll can also find these and many other things challenging.
The children will empathise with the challenges the Doll is facing and offer suggestions which are helping them, making them feel less alone.
A teacher in a year three class in a London school used their Persona Dolls, Samira and Isaac, as learning tools. She told the children that Isaac wasn’t well and wouldn’t be visiting them for a while. She asked if they would each like to design a get-well card. They responded enthusiastically and were thrilled when a thank you card arrived in the post from the Doll. It was read over and over again.
They were interested to learn that Samira came from Bangladesh. They were encouraged to look at a map to see where it was. They looked at books to find out about the country and they were fascinated by dual text Bengali / English books. They were also interested to know what food Samira ate when she lived in Bangladesh and if she ate the same food in London. Most of the children had never heard of Bangladesh before.
Children’s emotional involvement in the stories is crucial. It helps to capture and deepen their interest, arouses their curiosity and challenges them intellectually.
A record of the stories is kept so staff can keep up-to date on what has been happening in the Dolls’ lives. Parents can be kept informed and involved, by displaying the stories on a special Persona Doll wall or table.