Have you ever thought about the message the dolls your children play with sends to them? It’s something that has bugged me for a while now. And whenever someone gives my daughter a doll that looks nothing like her – all perfectly shining with blonde hair and blues eyes – a bit of me cries inside. I wonder silently to myself how this might be messing her up. But this also goes way beyond ethnicity. Inclusive dolls shouldn’t just be about ethnicity. There are other things they should also be about too.
That’s why I was thrilled to hear that a fab new range of disability-inclusive soft toy dolls are being launched as we speak by entrepreneurial husband and wife team Winnie Mak and Rafael Tselikas. The couple launched the One Dear World brand in 2017, which features four dolls of different ethnicities and genders.
They’re now expanding the range with six more dolls representing both visible and non-visible disabilities. The new collection of dolls includes a young girl with a prosthetic limb, a boy with autism, a boy with Down Syndrome, dolls with visual and hearing impairment, and a child experiencing anxiety to help teach children about mental health and wellbeing.
I was lucky enough to have them share their thoughts on why children need to play with inclusive dolls here.
Why do you think it’s important that children play with dolls that reflect the world around them?
Because it’s simply part of our real life. We live in a world that is a brilliant and beautiful melting pot of diversity. But walk into any regular high street toy shop, and you’d be hard pushed to find that diversity represented on the shelves. Fifteen percent of the world’s population live with some form of disability, but its not currently easy for children to find themselves represented in the books and toys they play with.
It somehow almost feels that people with disabilities are isolated from the daily life of non-disabled people. By playing with dolls that reflect the world around them, I believe children will grow up with a broader world view which opens them up to new perspective, which is the foundation of empathy.
I found this article on Mashable about inclusive toy box and it speaks my mind:
According to psychologist Dr. Amber A.
Hewitt, a specialist in gendered racial socialization, being exposed to
diversity via toys has great benefits for identity development.
“An inclusive toy box can promote positive racial/ethnic, gender, and cultural identity development for children. It’s important for children to see themselves reflected in their toys,” Hewitt says. She explains that a lack of representation in a child’s toy box can send harmful messages ranging from “people who look like me don’t matter” to concerns that there aren’t others who look like them.
In this way, diverse toys can promote inclusion by literally making members of marginalized groups more visible in a child’s daily life, as well as giving children more models that reflect themselves.
“All messages can impact a child’s sense of self-worth and can perpetuate stereotypes. It’s important to remember that not all messages that children receive are verbal. And children learn, including learning messages about identity, through play,” Hewitt says.
It’s hard to think about the subliminal impressions children pick up through toys without remembering the “Doll Test” of the 1940s. The experiment revealed that all children, including Black children, showed signs of white bias, and the results have been mostly consistent over the years.
Hewitt also believes it’s essential that we don’t send gendered messages to children during play. “I encourage caregivers and educators to avoid language based on gender stereotypes which perpetuate assumptions about the types of toys boys and girls ‘should’ play with,” she concludes.
What sort of messages are children taking away from play with inclusive toys?
Children learn from the environment around them and toys are just one part of it. For example, if a child never sees a fish in books or toys, or goes to an aquarium or to the sea, he or she may learn about fish as a fillet in the supermarket, or food on their plate.
We may not know people with diverse backgrounds in our social circle, but it is important to learn about them as it is part of our real world. The purpose of Dolls for All together with its accompanying booklet is to help bridge this gap and provide a tool for parents to talk about diversity and disabilities in a positive way.
What is the right age for introducing children to an inclusive range of dolls and why?
It’s never too early as long as the toy is offered to a child within its recommended age range. Prejudice and bias start early. Research shows that babies start to notice differences in appearance from three months old and children aged between three and five start to apply stereotypes, so the earlier we can introduce diversity in the environment around our child, the easier it is to help eliminate prejudice that could form at a later stage.
Ideally, what dolls should a parent include in a toybox to reflect inclusivity?
A doll is a way to reflect a child’s self identity. In my opinion, any doll that children can associate themselves with is good, be it the gender, appearance (such as colour of skin, hair, eyes or even the dress), or personality.
We can encourage inclusivity by helping our children see what makes us unique and different (in appearance, personality or ability), whilst also highlighting what unites us, despite those differences.
How can parents provide cultural context when introducing inclusive dolls to their children’s toybox?
Celebrating cultural festivals, introducing songs in a foreign language, exploring a new cuisine or making friends with people from a different culture are a few of the common ways to provide cultural context to children.
What are you hopes for Dolls for All and what’s next?
I don’t see One Dear World purely as a doll company. My plan is to create more materials around the doll characters, such as songs, storybooks, animations and card game or even theatre shows in the future. I hope one day it will become the Snoopy & Friends of the 21st century.
If you could only say one thing to my readers about the important of children playing with diverse dolls it would be….
Each child is unique and it is important for us as parents to accept them as they are, whether they prefer playing with dolls, cars, trains, or building blocks. Only when they are fully accepted without being judged, can then grow up as a strong individuals and open up to accept others.
Anything else you’d like to add?
The new dolls will be launched on the 23rd September, and will retail from between £24 and £30 pounds. If you like the idea behind these diverse inclusive dolls, support us by backing our crowdfunding campaign and sharing it with your family, friends and communities. To find out more visit www.onedearworld.com/dollsforall.
Do your children have any inclusive dolls in their toybox? What do you think about the importance of children playing with inclusive dolls? Do leave a comment and share.