Enabling Environments: Collections - Baby talk

Nicole Weinstein
Monday, November 14, 2011

Don't stop at dolls, but supply all the equipment that babies need in an essential collection of role-play resources, says Nicole Weinstein.

Playing 'babies' is something that many children enjoy during their early years. They may take the role of mummy or daddy or they may want to be the baby themselves. Either way, this form of play allows children to act out emotional difficulties, such as dealing with a new sibling, in a secure environment. It also gives them the opportunity to develop self-awareness and practise new skills that they are coming to terms with, such as dressing and undressing. A well-equipped home corner containing resources that children can use to feed, change, bathe, transport and put baby dolls to sleep is vital if we are to support this area of play.



A collection of 'baby' resources should be a feature of your continuous (everyday) provision. Babies turn their experiences from real life into their play. At toddler stage, their play develops into pretend play, where they repeat the things that are important to them.

When deciding what to buy for toddlers aged 18 months upwards, choose resources that are 'easily recognisable', says Julian Grenier, early years adviser for the London Borough of Tower Hamlets.

He advises, 'A toy milk bottle for a baby doll should look exactly like a milk bottle. Cereal boxes should be empty variety-pack boxes. Everything should be the right size for them to be able to hold and manipulate. If the resources are obvious, they can just get involved and start playing with them without having to do things they are not able to do yet, such as transform open-ended resources with their imagination.'

Here are some points to consider when building up a core collection.

  • Provide a wide range of dolls of different sizes, materials and races - include soft-bodied dolls, hard-bodied dolls, life-sized baby dolls and dolls with movable limbs. Offer dolls such as Action Men that may appeal to boys.
  • Check that clothes are the right size for the dolls provided and ensure that the dolls fit into the high chairs, cots and prams.
  • Ensure that some or all of the resources can be used indoors and outdoors.
  • Offer realistic toy versions of baby equipment, such as feeding bottles, so that young children do not become confused between the real things and the toys. Avoid toy dummies - toddlers will want to put them in their mouths.
  • Provide a large collection of baby resources for the under-threes, because it's very difficult for this age group to share and play collaboratively.
  • Ensure that toy prams and pushchairs are sturdy enough to carry toys and children. Young children often want to regress and relive their baby years through their play, so they may want to jump into the pushchair too. Generic vehicles such as the Push Cart (£139 from www.communityplaythings.co.uk) can be used as a stroller or a doll carriage and are strong enough for a child to sit in.



Children are constantly learning about themselves and absorbing the world around them. Their growing awareness of self and others is manifested during the first half of the second year, when the child realises that others have feelings that they can recognise (see Child Development - Your guide to the first five years: Awareness by Maria Robinson). This could include, for example, knowing what being 'sad' is and what may be comforting. Through playing 'babies', children are reinforcing their recognition that there is a separate, distinct and unique 'me' as well as a 'you'.

Early years consultant Marie Charlton says, 'It's really important to support and encourage children's growing awareness of their own needs and those of others. By acting out the roles of mum, dad, baby, or even the dog, they begin to recognise that others need to be fed, looked after and loved.'

Here are some examples of appropriate resources.

A new arrival To prepare children for the arrival of a sibling, Grena Road nursery in Richmond, Surrey, offers 'baby bags' containing a doll, baby clothing, blankets, nappies and wipes, a bib and a rattle. Children are encouraged to take them home to play with and help to dress, feed, wash and talk to and cuddle.

Baby bag Provide children with a bag to put baby changing equipment in - bottles, muslin squares, nappies, keys, hairbrush. They will enjoy packing this when they take the baby out on a journey in the buggy. Or you can try the Tiny Tears Changing Bag from Argos (£19.99), which comes with a fold-out changing area, toiletry bottles, a baby toy and a fabric nappy.

Newborns A parent with a new baby may be happy to come into the nursery and bathe the baby. Children will be fascinated by this new life in front of them. Set up an area with soap, towels and lotion where children can bath hard-bodied dolls. For older children who are interested in growth or have had new siblings, try using anatomically correct newborn dolls like the newborn white and black boy and girl dolls (£9.95 each) from www.galt-educational.co.uk.

Sling time Some children may want to carry a doll around with them in a sling. Practitioners could provide lengths of fabric to tie the dolls on to their front or back, or they could buy a toy baby carrier like the Beco Mini buckle carrier (£25) from www.naturalconnection.co.uk.

Food time If it's not already a permanent fixture, set up an area with a doll's high chair such as the wooden High Chair (£44.90) from Wesco and some bibs, feeding spoons and bowls, so that the children can have a tea party. Provide real vegetables for children to cut up and feed the dolls. Also, set up a picnic area in the garden with lots of cushions for the dolls.

Children at Cottage Day Nursery in Clavering, Essex, put the dolls in their own Community Playthings low chairs every day after breakfast. Owner Nadine Bailey says, 'They love to feed the babies with the feeding set we bought recently from a supermarket. It contains a box of raisins, a food divider bowl and some cutlery.'

Dress me For children who are learning to dress themselves, try the 'Dress me' doll range from Wesco, which is a set of dolls with clothes that include buttons, zips and laces (£120.74 for six dolls or £22.40 each). Jo Vickers, manager at Weavers Fields Community Nursery in Tower Hamlets, says that the children love to dress the dolls in 'pants'.

She says, 'We have a large selection of clothes - mainly jumpers and vests that were donated to us - but the children prefer to just dress them in underwear.' Packs of two Knickers for mini baby dolls (£4.80) can be bought from Wesco.



Provide good-quality fiction and non-fiction books such as the following.

The New Baby by Anna Civardi (Usborne First Experiences). This book provides an ideal starting point for young children and adults to discuss first experiences in an amusing and friendly way.

Rosie's Babies by Martin Wadell (Walker Books). Rosie's mother has a new baby but Rosie has two of her own. To look at, they seem to be toy animals, but to her they are entirely real. They drive cars, they like swings, rockets and dinosaurs, and they hate custard.

Waiting for Baby by Trish Cooke (Walker Books). Tommy is waiting for his mother to have the baby. What a surprise when she does!



Pen Green Centre for Children and Their Families in Corby, Northamptonshire, has a baby clinic on-site that children regularly visit in small groups. Nursery teacher Annette Cummings says, 'We have children who are interested in growth and birth, often because their mums are pregnant, so we take them to watch the babies being weighed or to a baby massage course. Once, a pregnant member of staff showed them a 4-D scan of her baby on DVD, and let them hear the baby's heartbeat. Everything is done with the parents' permission and it's important to respect different cultural views around pregnancy and childbirth.'

The children's centre's wide range of baby equipment includes a collection of multi-cultural dolls, two baby beds that the children can also climb into, a high chair and a special collection of Barbie dolls with clothes. All the dolls are multifunctional and the children can bathe them, paint their faces with face paint and even wrap them in Sellotape if they wish.


This series aims to help practitioners be more responsive to children's interests and reflect on how thoughtful resourcing can truly broaden and progress children's learning. It sets out what to include in a core collection for everyday use, and gives examples of how to build up resources that support children's interests and special play opportunities.

The practitioner role is to widen children's experiences and introduce them to new and stimulating things at the same time as following their interests. Although you cannot predict how children's interests will develop, or the learning that will flow from them, you can broaden children's learning by provoking their interests or by planning first-hand experiences that the children will then reflect in their play. One way to achieve this is by building up new collections that can be brought out in response to children's changing interests. Think about making links between the play equipment and the real world and how you can support children's play with your chosen resources.


Next month (13 December)

Creating a collection on the theme of castles. If you have favourite castle or fantasy figure that you'd like to recommend to other settings, please e-mail your suggestions to: nw@nicoleweinstein.co.uk.


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