Dolls of the World:

An alternative look at society's social customs

A closer look at the role dolls play in society

Significance: Why dolls?

As we most commonly know them, dolls are small figures depicting a human being that are used by children (and, at times, adults) as a play object. They are given to children at a young age to entertain and keep them occupied. But dolls are not merely an object of entertainment. For centuries now, they have been used in most cultures around the world as educational tools to teach children about their religious traditions, cultural beliefs, and societal standards. Constructed by society, dolls serve as a direct window into a culture’s features, reflecting society's gender norms, prejudices, politics, religion, and expectations of their people. The way that dolls are able to depict the society they belong to is through the way they are dressed, the way they look, how they are marketed, and the personalities that they are given. 

Dolls from Colombia

Photo: Creative common license

“Giving a child a doll is like giving a child a tool from which he can express himself and give himself full range of the many facets of adulthood that he can mimic and weave into his learning experience”- S. Disch 2012

Baby dolls

Photo: Creative common license

What are dolls made out of? 

The materials used to make a doll and its style varies between cultures. The resources available to them will determine how the dolls are made. Dolls can be made out of wood, plastic, clay, paper, porcelain rags… 

What can children learn from dolls?

Dolls are one the first lessons that children receive on what it is expected of them. Educators and parents have used dolls to develop the motor skills of children, such as self care routines like grooming and hygiene. Through the use of dolls, children are also taught from a young age the gender roles present in their given society. They are taught what to wear and what customs they are expected to follow. They prepare children to become functioning members of the society they belong to and fulfill the roles they have been given. Although society greatly influences how children are affected by the dolls, it is important to note that the way the child and their parents interpret the dolls and how they should be used also affect what the child will learn from them.

“Through engaging with dolls, children are imitating what they see or experience from the adult world; in other words practicing for their adult life to come.”- William Blatz


Hodgins, B. Denise. “Playing With Dolls: (Re)Storying Gendered Caring Pedagogies.” International Journal of Child, Youth and Family Studies, vol. 5, no. 4.2, 2014, pp. 782–807., doi:10.18357/ijcyfs.hodginsbd.5422014. 

Forman-Brunell, Miriam. “Interrogating the Meanings of Dolls.” Berghahn Journals, Berghahn Journals, 1 June 2012, 

Blatz, W. E., Millichamp, D., & Fletcher, M. (1935). Nursery education, theory and

practice. New York: William Morrow and Company.

Disch, S. (2012, September 6). The importance of dolls in early childhood. 

Temple Anthropology Laboratory and Museum 

Gladfelter Hall- Lower Level, Temple University

1115 Polett Walk, Philadelphia, PA 19122

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