By Katrina Oliver
Pretend play is a critical element of early childhood development.
Through imaginative pretend play, children can learn about the social roles of a family and community, early social-emotional skills, and creative play.
Playing with baby dolls in particular is a great way for children to learn about family dynamics and build the nurturing and empathetic emotional skills involved in caring for a young child.
Playing with a baby doll can help a small child empathize and understand their own parents who care for them, or help them relate more with younger siblings or other babies that may be in their own life.
Baby dolls are also a very versatile toy!
There’s plenty of fun, engaging ways that kids can interact and play with their baby dolls that develop all kinds of early developmental skills, including fine motor, sensory, and cognitive skills.
Pretending to care for a baby doll can help a child grasp the amount of physical care that a real baby needs.
Providing a child with props for their baby doll like diapers, a pacifier, a bottle, a crib, a stroller, and a high chair can allow them to pretend to provide for their physical needs of their baby doll.
This type of play is building a sense of nurturance and an understanding of the amount of work that goes into caring for a young baby.
Who doesn’t love playing dress up?
Changing a baby doll doesn’t just allow a child to engage with fashion, but also with the clothing needs of a baby.
A child dressing their baby doll might think about what event they’re going to bring their baby doll to, or what weather their baby might need preparing for, just like when their parents dress them for the day.
Putting clothes on and off of their baby doll also requires dexterous finger movements that help build adaptive and fine motor skills.
Baby dolls can be a great addition to pretend play that takes place in a place in the community, such as a child’s makeshift pretend grocery store or restaurant.
Pretending to be a mommy or daddy taking their baby to the store is a great way to add to a pretend play scenario that introduces concepts around community locations, community members, and public etiquette to young children.
Pretending to bring a small baby to the grocery store may even help them internalize the expectations that are on them when they go to the store themselves!
A common anxiety for children is going to the doctor, anticipating panic-inducing vaccinations and examinations.
Giving a child a chance to pretend to be a doctor themselves giving a check-up to their baby doll can be a great way to set up their expectations for what happens at a doctor’s appointment and soothe their anxieties before going in.
Providing your kiddo with some simple pretend play doctor’s tools, such as a stethoscope, syringe, reflex hammer, and bandage can help them act out the events of a doctor’s visit with their baby and even practice soothing a fussy baby who struggles with their appointment.
For slightly older or more capable toddlers who love dressing up their dolls, there are plenty of opportunities to take it a step further.
Creating clothing for dolls can be an exciting task, even if it is as simple as decorating a white doll shirt with some markers.
With some adult assistance, kids can even put together their own clothes for their dolls, putting together simple pieces that can be hot glued or stitched together.
For toddlers, getting a first haircut can feel like a big milestone.
And with such a large and sharp instrument coming so close to their head as a pair of scissors, it can also be an uneasy one.
Giving kids a chance to cut the hair of their own doll can help them act out the scenario and see it as a less scary situation than what they’re picturing in their head.
Of course, cutting all the hair off of one’s doll can present a few problems, so parents who want to be able to preserve the actual hair on a doll’s head can create an “extra” head of hair by putting some yarm or construction paper strips on the doll for their little one to snip away and style.
The benefit of that method is also that kids can then style the hair with markers, glue, or beads to their heart’s content without worrying about ruining one of their beloved toys.