I was one of those children that loved dolls and pretend played all the time. It was important to me to be a good mother to my babies. I cared for them, fed them, changed their clothes and put them to bed at night. Growing up in a large family and having the fortune of having four older and one younger siblings, I was the lucky owner of not just one, but many dolls. They were a big part of my childhood and I want to believe that playing with them, loving them and caring for them, made me a better person, if not that, they created wonderful memories for me. I was also lucky to have had parents that supported my love for dolls. My mother sewed new doll clothes every year for Christmas and my father wall-papered the doll house and restored doll furniture. My siblings and I were raised to make things ourselves and that remained to be part of my life.
I hand-created my first doll when I was expecting my first child. I was so excited to do this that I didn't even consider what type of doll would be a good fit for a newborn. I created a traditional Waldorf doll, which ended up sitting in the shelf, ready to be played with, for the first two years of my daughters life. Well, lesson learned! If only I would have known better, I would have made a simple knot doll or a cuddle doll for her. That would have been smart and useful! Well, I knew better when I was expecting my second baby a little over two years later.
My oldest daughter had just turned three years old, when a month later her little baby sister was born. Julia (3) really took on the responsibilities of a mother. Her doll was perfect now. She could dress and undress her, care for her, feed her and put her to sleep. For Elena (newborn) I had created a soft-bodied cuddle doll of soft skin colored flannel fabric, which was easy to grasp a hold of. This doll would be a perfect companion for my baby in no time. The head was covered with a knitted hat and I had decided not to embroider the eyes and mouth.
The more you can leave to a child's imagination the better it is. Children see a form and imagine it to be something. It actually helps their brains to develop. So be sure to pick the right toys for your child. The younger the child the simpler should be the toy.
Children like to imitate the people around them. The closest ones are of course the people that take care of them and love them deeply. Especially in today's world it becomes more and more difficult for children to be exposed to real hands on everyday tasks. Often both parents have to work and children are very young when they start school. With technology taking over so many areas in our lives, it leaves little room for children to experience hands-on experiences. I remember when I watched one of my grandchildren open a book and setting it "laptop" like on the table, to start typing away on it. Yes, they do imitate us! Cooking, cleaning, repairing, building, growing and doing is what children love to imitate, through that they develop their cognitive, fine motor, self-help, speech-language-communication and social-emotional skills. Practicing these skills on someone/thing else often make it easier to learn, preparing the child to apply the new skill on themselves.
I remember how Julia cared for her doll as I cared for her little sister. We would sit together feeding our babies, changing diapers and putting our babies to bed. We sang lullabies together to soothe our babies when restless. I could also trust Julia to be gentle and caring with her sister because that is how she learned we treat babies.
As time went by child number three announced himself. Yes, the third one was a boy! During the pregnancy, I made an almost life-size newborn baby doll for Julia and a smaller one for Elena and, of course, a small cuddle doll for the new arrival. I sewed diapers and covers, knitted cloth and sewed outfits. (Did I mention I was on bedrest?) Both children were outfitted with a carrier, which I sewed. We all were going to have a baby!
My love for dolls and the understanding of their importance have been a part in my life for the past 30 years. Of course, I believe that a hand-made doll out of natural materials (preferably made by the child's parent) is the best doll a child could ever have, but this is not always available or possible.
The suggested reading for worried parents, who question if boys should be playing with dolls is "William's doll" by Charlotte Zolotow. I love this book and I bought 3 copies back in 1999 when my family moved from Germany to the US, seeing it for the first time. Now that my children are adults, one copy each can go with them into the life they build for themselves. I hope they will always value the importance of dolls.
In the Waldorf curriculum, doll making is usually taught in 7th grade. I had the pleasure of teaching this class many years, two of which I taught my own children. To give a bit of a twist to doll making each child picked a country their doll was from. It was fun to see what they researched, which countries they chose and to see the end result. Elena made a doll from Lappland and Kai a doll from Germany (with real Lederhosen).