Persona Dolls offer an effective, stimulating, non-threatening and enjoyable way to combat discrimination, foster emotional literacy, raise equality issues and empower children. The Persona Dolls and their stories develop children’s ability to empathise and become comfortable with difference and share experiences. The approach also helps children to appreciate that treating people unfairly by name calling, teasing and exclusion causes pain and unhappiness. It also shows that there are other ways to approach difficulties rather than through hitting, kicking and other physical responses. The Dolls also show children how to stand up when they experience or witness unfairness and prejudice. A tall order but if the Dolls are embedded in an anti-bias and culturally/background appropriate curriculum children are well able to meet the challenge.
What are Persona Dolls?
Persona Dolls are very special dolls; they are the practitioner’s dolls and are not left out and about in the setting for children to play with. They are kept in a special place in the setting. They have their own personal-character with a name, family, likes and dislikes, things that they are good at and things that they find a challenge. As the practitioner it is your responsibility to build the identities of the dolls with the support of the parents and other staff so that the children can identify with the persona. No two families are the same, and in order to avoid stereotyping, it’s important that the information for each doll is accurate and not fantastical. Each Persona Doll in the setting will need a persona that reflects some of the children in your group, but a doll should not wholly represent any individual child. The whole point of Persona Doll stories is that you discuss issues that are coming up for children without focusing on any one child.
As children listen to the Doll’s story they begin to empathise with the Doll. They begin to explore what it’s like to put themselves in another person’s shoes. They discover that discriminatory behaviour hurts. They begin to see the injustice of the situations in the stories so are motivated to think of solutions. This problem solving helps boost children’s self-confidence so they respond to others with more respect and sensitivity. After hearing stories in which the Dolls are unfairly treated children are more likely to stand up for someone who is excluded, teased or put down.
Persona Dolls should represent the diversity in the setting and also in the wider community, people that the children are meeting on a daily basis inside and outside the setting. We are not just talking about cultural diversity but all types of family makeup, disability and people from socio economic groups.
The Persons Dolls work supports the implementation of a Diversity and Equality: Anti-bias Approach in the setting. As such the issues addressed will not and should not be the same in every setting. The Dolls you choose and the issues you discuss will always depend on the individual children you have in the setting and also the interests and concerns that are coming up for those children.
See Chapter 11 in Equality and Diversity in Early Childhood: an Irish Perspective (Murray, Urban 2012).