Enabling Environments: Tried and Tested - All dolled up

Dolls enable children to act out real-life situations, learn about human growth and develop their fine motor skills. Early years settings tested some new specially-designed dolls for Nicole Weinstein





PRICE: £25.95

CONTACT: 0113 2707070, www.ascoeducational.co.uk

This grandfather and grandmother doll, 23cm to 28cm, are part of a three-generation family.

Tested by Bewbush Nursery, Bewbush Children's Centre, West Sussex

'My first thoughts were that the dolls looked very stereotypical. They don't represent typical grandparents in our community. However, we have been using them with a child that we are trying to encourage positive behaviour with, and we are having some success. He takes them home each evening and in the morning a member of staff talks to him about what they did last night, what they enjoyed and what made him or the grandparents happy. He is very gentle with them and really cares for them. They are well made - they still look new even though the child has taken the dolls' clothes off and redressed them. The shoes are still the correct shape and stay on. But I don't think they are good value for money. They are quite small, they didn't have the "wow factor", and when they arrived I felt that they did not match the item shown on the picture.'

STAR RATINGS: *** - Good




PRICE: £19.90

CONTACT: 0115 989 9765, www.wesco-group.com

Lucas is one in a range of soft-bodied dolls designed to introduce young children to different styles of clothing and learn various techniques for dressing.

Tested by Lawnswood Childcare, Solihull, Birmingham

'Lucas was a hit with children of all ages as an everyday role-play doll, but I would have preferred more of a variety of dressing skills than just Velcro and threading. The pre-school children found the dressing skills limited, so we just used him as an everyday doll in the home corner rather than specifically for the dressing skills. The two-to three-year-olds could take the clothes off with ease but found redressing the doll hard, and the toddlers could undo the Velcro but some struggled with this. It was successful with our special needs children with autism and developmental delay, as they could dress and undress the doll without much assistance and were proud of their achievement. I think it's most suitable for children aged two and a half to three and a half. It looks easy to wash and keep clean and I would consider buying it if it had more dressing skills. However, it is ideal for younger children and those with needs.'

STAR RATINGS: *** - Good




PRICE: Oriental girl doll, £13.90, oriental doll's clothes, £10.75

CONTACT: 0800 318 686 www.tts-group.co.uk

These multicultural, anatomically correct, hard-bodied dolls are an ideal way to introduce children to other races from around the world. All four dolls in the set feature moveable head, limbs and realistic hair. Height 42cm.

Tested by Plas Gogerddan Nursery, Bright Horizons Family Solutions, Aberystwyth University, Wales

'We tested the Oriental girl doll with two sets of Oriental doll's clothes. She was very popular straight away. The children liked her long hair and clothes and one little boy stroked her hair, said she was beautiful and named her Laura. We really enjoyed testing this doll with the children. They took a real interest in caring for all her needs and also in her clothes and where she came from. One little boy called her garment a kimono. We talked about the doll's golden skin and slanting eyes. The children suggested she was from China. This doll is great for use with children aged three to five years following the Foundation Phase in Wales. The staff introduced the doll using both Welsh and English language. She is good value for money and looks quite robust. But we were a little concerned about the amount of hair that came out.'

STAR RATINGS: **** - Very Good




PRICE: £24.99

CONTACT: www.mangotreekids.com or 08456 524521

A handmade traditional mixed-race rag doll, 48cm long, made from cotton, machine washable.

Tested by Amanda Mayne, childminder, Northamptonshire

'This doll is very nice to look at and very soft and cuddly. I placed it in the playroom with the other toys, dolls and prams. Some two-year-olds enjoyed cuddling her, but a six-year-old with speech delay took the most interest in her. She named her Dora, cuddled her, explored her clothes and what was underneath them. She could say Dora perfectly and the fact that she named her was quite a response from her. The two-year-olds also liked to cuddle her but in general, she did not seem to appeal to the children as much as I thought she would, even when they were encouraged to play with her. It is completely safe but I thought it was quite expensive.'

STAR RATINGS: ** - Satisfactory




PRICE: £45

CONTACT: 08451 203005 or visit www.galt-educational.co.uk.

A set of six miniature, soft-bodied dolls ideal for young children.

Tested by Paradise Lane (St Peter's) Pre-school and Nursery, Liverpool

'We introduced the dolls in our home corner. Some of the children went on to use them in solitary, parallel and collaborative play. One 30-month-old girl really embraced the dolls and spent a great deal of time feeding and caring for them. One afternoon our crazy-soap play led to this particular child bathing one of the dolls. She became frustrated because the doll took a long time to dry out and she wanted to put her to bed. Practitioners observed this child engrossed in her solitary play, which was rich in language and learning. There were no safety concerns. However, the children did find it difficult to remove the doll's clothes as they were tight around the ankles. I think that the dolls provide good value for money, but I feel that they would have sparked more interest if they were dressed in different clothes that could be interchangeable. Many preferred to use our own dolls, which are fairly old and look very loved.'

STAR RATINGS: *** - Good




PRICE: £12.95 per family or £33.85 for three families

CONTACT: 08451 202055, www.hope-education.co.uk

Small white, black and Asian doll family figures - mother, father and two children - with solid wooden heads and bendable soft wire bodies. Suitable for use in small-world play environments.

Tested by Alderman Leach Primary School, Darlington

'We placed the dolls in a box next to the dolls' house so that the children could use them in whichever way they chose. Staff observed a sudden influx of children to the area who were keen to use the new dolls. They enjoyed using the characters and began role-playing simple scenarios and having imaginary conversations. Staff continued to support and extend language during the following week. We talked about 'same and different' and although most children were able to make gender comparisons, none of them commented on the different skin colour and cultures. The dolls were perfect for the children in our nursery, aged three to four years. However, I would be reluctant to use them with younger children because some of the clothing items came off and the children were unable to put them back on. We would consider buying the dolls because they were well-made and quite strong. They are dressed in modern, colourful clothes and have different hairstyles. We felt they were a little overpriced, particularly as the trousers kept coming off.'

STAR RATINGS: **** - Very Good


For Vivien Mitchell, reception teacher, Frederick Bird Primary School, Coventry

'When focusing on the topic "growth", we bought a range of anatomically correct newborn boy and girl dolls so that children could explore the growth of humans. There was a lot of interest around babies at this time because many of the children had new siblings. The dolls are very realistic representations of newborns and the children enjoyed dressing and undressing them and caring for them. They helped them with their own experiences and helped with language development, particularly pronouns.

'We bought our dolls from Galt. They stock newborn black and white twins, £19 per set, and a happy and unhappy baby, £30. Contact 08451 203005 or visit www.galt-educational.co.uk.'

*** GOOD

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