Dolls, Figurines and the Value of Role Play

What is it that girls’ dolls and boys’ figurines have in common? Admittedly they both have heads, arms and legs, and look vaguely but not entirely human. Girls’ dolls tend to be about a foot in height at least, whereas most boys’ figurines are around six inches tall. There doesn’t appear to be any particular reason for this height discrepancy apart from the physical requirements that girls’ dolls have, in that they tend to wee, whereas boys’ toys tend to carry guns, which can be made in miniature as they tend not to work, requiring the boy in question to supply the necessary sound effects and explosive consequences.The answer is that they both help children to develop their role playing experiences and opportunities, and as such, are a hugely valuable toy in developing children’s awareness of themselves as individuals and the makeup of the world around them. Children need to practice role play, and are doing so almost the whole time, whether you are aware of it or not. Their mimicry of you as an adult is a form of role play, their use of dolls or figurines to act out situations, conflicts, opportunities or groups is also a valuable role play exercise.It is often in opportunities such as these that children have the freedom to try out new ways of approaching situations, see things from the other person’s perspective and understand that the other person even has a perspective at all. Children, and adults, usually learn better by doing, rather than merely observing. Having said that, children are excellent observers. Once they observe a situation, whether in real life, on television or in a book, children take on board the ideas, the characters and the conflicts, and mull them over in their heads. They will quite happily dress up as their favorite characters and prance about with a colander on their head, a pair of shorts draped over their shoulders and a wooden spoon in their hand, bravely taking on the might of the linen bin monster who is lurking at the top of the stairs.But these games should not be dismissed as merely childish. To the child, everything is very much more real than we adults can appreciate, and children often learn valuable ideas in such situations as these – especially when they are playing in a group. Sets of figurines, in particular, lend themselves very well to group play, and if they are based on a particular television show or book, then all the better.It is when children play in a group at role play that people’s roles are discussed and defined, and the rules laid down. Whether this is as themselves as the characters, or with their dolls or figurines, they will have a firm understanding of their roles, and the rules, before the game begins. Teams are formed, strategies devised, conquests achieved and lessons learnt. They don’t realize it, of course, and the moment you congratulate them all on such a fine educational learning experience they’ll probably sell their dolls and figurines and take up macrame instead.

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