Waldorf Dolls

waldorf doll 03 dThis is an article about the value of handmade dolls which Basia wrote for a Waldorf School magazine.

Whenever we encounter children really playing, we see that they re-enact scenes from daily life. For them, the adult is of greatest significance. Up to the age of seven, children observe adults 'going about their business' — whether working or relating to others - and then act it out.
Adults need tools to 'act out' their lives - children need toys to do the same. When selecting toys, the most important consideration is that they should stimulate the child’s imagination and provide images of a living, natural kind. The most important toy for a child is a doll.

The doll is an image of the human being and is therefore the toy most suited to develop and enliven the self-image in the growing child. A special relationship is established between the child and the dol. It is about love and nurturing, friendship. The emerging of self and the expression of all this as the child gains experience from the adults who surround them.

A simple doll given to a toddler made out of a handkerchief, with a head at the top and two ink spots for eyes, possesses all the qualities of the human form, insofar as the child is capable of observing at this early age. A child knows no more about the human being than that he stands upright, that there is on 'upper‘ and a ‘lower' part of his being, that he has a head and a pair of eyes. As for the mouth, Rudolf Steiner says, "As for the mouth, you will often find it on the forehead in a child’s drawings. There is as yet no clear consciousness of the exact position of the mouth." He continues, "An inner plastic* force is at work in the child. All that comes to him from the environment passes over into his being and this becomes an inner formative power, a power that also builds up the organs of the body."

Up to the age of seven, the child has an abundant imagination. This needs to be used in order to fully develop, and so it is vital to provide opportunities to use it. Just as human muscles are strengthened by regular use, so will the child's imagination grow it given sufficient opportunity. Into simple knotted dolls the child brings their own imagination.

In fact, it is only through fantasy that the knotted doll becomes a doll at all and thus a living image of the human being.

The child's material gift of imagination, together with their own experiences, enlivens the doll and the child's play with the doll. The doll becomes the child's best friend, companion or loved one. It can also become a 'therapist‘. After a trauma, like parents‘divorce, a death in the family, or childhood illness (or just- a ’Mummy's bad day'), children can re-enact what they witness with the doll. Sometimes they have to do it many times to make it possible for them to digest it. Only then can the healing process take place. Dolls can listen, dolls can speak to the child, the doll gets tired and wants to play in the morning, the doll likes to go for a walk, sometimes the doll needs to go shopping, too - like a child “itself, the doll is a very special, serious part of their life. By taking care of their doll, children can learn how to take care of people, how to be a parent (mother or father) later in life, or even how to be a trusted friend who can keep a secret. Children, by loving their dolls, can learn how to love and how to be loved. The best doll tor a child is one made by somebody who makes it with love for a particular child. Every doll handmade for an individual child becomes individual, too. Often it looks like the child for whom it is made. If a parent is not able to make a doll for their child themselves, somebody who knows the child and loves them will be next best.

For a father to be able to make a doll for a son, or a mother to make a doll for a daughter, is the best gift of love for their future life. It you missed the chance of making a doll for your young child, I believe it is never too late. I have given a doll to a grandmother as a gift - it has been greatly appreciated.

So I wish you all happy sewing.

Basia Smith Kindergarten Teacher

*in this context, the word ‘plastic' takes the meaning of 'plasticity‘, or ‘able to be moulded'