I am a huge fan of dolls as part of imaginative play. A doll can allow a child to pretend to be an adult or older sibling. This allows kids to play different social roles and even act out different scenarios that help them process social interactions. Kids can test out what it feels like to be the Mommy or the Daddy with their doll, talk to them, and care for them. Dolls can also be friends and participate in adventures. Dolls have been a standard toy for little girls for as long as anyone can remember. But boys want imaginative play too. So, for many years now, I have given the little boys in my life dolls, as well as the girls. What has really impressed me this year, is the wide variety of skin tones and boy dolls available!

So many choices!

Over the years, I have gifted dolls of all different kinds. Plastic ones that drink and wet. Handmade, soft Waldorf dolls. They all have a place in my heart. If you are choosing a doll for a child, I recommend you consider for just a few minutes what kind of doll will be best for them. I am a big fan of finding dolls that are both washable and durable, not just cute. If this doll will be the only doll a child has, I recommend looking for one that looks like the child. Having a “mini-me” style doll is good for a child’s self-esteem. However, if this child has multiple dolls, it is great to choose a beautiful doll in a different skin tone or gender from your child. This helps them learn to relate to a wider variety of people.

If you want to buy a doll, I do recommend looking for them in local toy stores (though the links on this page are to Amazon and are affiliate links that give me a small kickback). Target also has impressed me by carrying a wider variety of dolls over the last few years. But, let’s look at the pros and cons of a few specific dolls.

Baby Dolls

Younger children of all genders are often drawn towards baby dolls. My favorite dolls for my kids have been ones that have a vinyl head, hands, and feet with a soft body. Blinking eyes that let the doll “sleep” are a feature my kids also loved.  Many choices of dolls can get wet, so they can take baths with your child or in a bowl for playtime fun. The more ways a child can play with a doll, the more adventures they can go along with. Dolls that can take a bottle are also a bonus.  I like this little guy from Corrolle.

Remember when shopping, small dolls for younger kids and bigger dolls for older children.  Kids who are in the age range of 1-3 can happily play with a baby doll that is about 12 inches in height, or even a little smaller. But as your child gets older, they often are drawn to dolls that are also bigger. At around 5, my daughter’s favorite was a 15-inch doll, that filled her arms more than the 12-inch she had loved as a 3-year-old. That doll had hair, and looked like a toddler, instead of the baby she carried around before it. Dolls that are in the 18-inch range usually are made for children who are age 6 and up, who can more easily play with and carry a doll that size.

Friend Dolls

Friend dolls are dolls that look more like a child, instead of a baby. They also come in a range of soft body to plastic. These dolls can have hair, clothes, and a range of accessories. Dressing a doll is great for your child’s motor skills! These dolls are also the kind of dolls children often want to take along to the playground. So choose one that doesn’t mind a trip through the washing machine after a hard day of play.  This new set of superhero dolls are very cute for having an adventure together with your 3- to 5-year-old.

Once again, older children are generally drawn towards dolls that are bigger and/or look older. Personally, I am really drawn to the new Wellie Wishers dolls for the 5-year-old who wants a friend style doll. They just look ready for a tea party or a dress up game! But the 18-inch dolls made popular by the American Girl Company are often the favorite with girls over 6 looking for a friend who has everything. This size doll has more accessories than I do, with options for knock-offs everywhere from Target to the craft store.

Accessories

Do you really want to be sure the child in your life plays with their doll? The best way to ensure that is with a few well-chosen doll accessories. There are two things I recommend every baby doll have. The first is a bottle.  The old disappearing milk bottles that have been around forever, are very popular with kids, and it gives them something to do with the doll, while they learn how to play with them.

But the best accessory for a doll is a stroller. There is something about putting a doll in a stroller and taking it for a little walk, especially around the block, that will draw in even the most reluctant child.  Just remember to size the stroller to the child. Toddlers love a sturdy stroller they can lean on, so for them, I prefer wooden ones. But if you have an older child who still loves dolls, be sure to look for a stroller that is tall enough they can push it while standing up straight.

Accessories really help kids to interact with their dolls and enjoy them more. Showing your child how to play with their doll, and giving them a start with how to interact with the doll will lead your child to be able to explore doll play on their own. Just like you wouldn’t dump blocks on the floor and assume your child will know how to build a castle, you shouldn’t assume your child knows how to play with a doll. Playing with your child with their toys when they are small gives them ideas for how that play can look and explore more mature play as they grow.

Every child should have a doll!

If you are considering buying a child their first doll for the holidays, I hope you will. Kids need to learn how to nurture, and dolls allow them to explore that more fully. Dolls are also great for games involving pretending to be a doctor or teacher. Dolls allow kids to act out their feelings and even provide a listening ear when your child needs to talk. I really believe every child should have a doll.

P.S. Here are the links to the dolls and accessories I’ve recommended today.

WellieWishers Emerson

by American Girl

Courtney

by American Girl

Want to learn more about my favorite OT-related toys and games?

I’m a huge fan of using toys and games as a way of helping kids reach their OT goals. That’s why each week, for the next few weeks, I’ll be featuring my favorite toys and games with Occupational Therapy benefits here on my blog. Make sure that you are signed up for our mailing list so you don’t miss out on any of my posts.

About the Author

Laura Sowdon, OTR/L is an occupational therapist, writer, speaker, educator and creator of the Five Senses Literature Lessons homeschool curriculum. She has worked as an occupational therapist with children in public and private schools, as well as private practice. Laura has taught and managed homeschool co-ops as well as homeschooling her own three children. Laura is dedicated to the idea of educating children at a pace that aligns with brain and physical development milestones and respects neurodiversity in all its forms.

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2 thoughts on “Doll Play: For Boys and Girls!”

  1. This is so true! I was the biggest tomboy and never cared much for Barbies and things of the like. However, Mom got me an American Girl Doll that has my exact same hair color and hazel eyes– and I loved it. I felt like it was created just for me. And it was.

    1. Laura Sowdon

      What a great memory! I had a couple of dolls I loved as a child, and I just can’t resist gifting them to the kids in my life because of those good memories.

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