5 Really Non-Traditional Uses for Children’s Dolls

A few weeks ago, I wrote a post  on five traditional uses for dolls that got a lot of interest. Today I’d like to talk about five uses for dolls that are ‘non-traditional.’

1: Good Touch – Bad Touch

antomically correct Asian Boy doll

It doesn’t surprise us, but it does make us feel sad every time The Pattycake Doll Company receives an order of anatomically correct dolls from a Social Services Agency. For children, it is easier and more comfortable to talk about it happening to a doll then it is to themselves.

2: Aromatherapy, Relaxation and Bed Warmer Dolls.

A Microwavable Aromatherapy and Bed Warmer Doll

A Microwavable Aromatherapy and Bed Warmer Doll

Filled with Flax seeds and herbs instead of fiberfill and foam, like these childrens heating pads, are just as soft and cuddly as a traditional teddy bear or other ‘take-to-bed’ doll. But you can put it in the freezer and then between the sheets as an ‘air-conditioner on a hot summer’s eve, or in the microwave to release the delightful aromatherapy and bed warming benefits.

3: Teaching and Representing Diversity

Using dolls to teach diversity

Using dolls to teach diversity

You know that more than half of America’s Children are children of color right? Gone are the days when the only dolls in America’s schools were pink.

4: Comfort Babies

a reborn doll

An example of reborn doll artistry by doll artist Donna Lee

For some people, a ‘Reborn,’ Realistic Doll can fill a void in their hearts. Empty Nesters, widows and widowers, people who have recently lost a child… are all examples of people who have used a doll as a surrogate to attach to while working out their feelings.

Most successful reborn doll artists have had the request to create a doll “exactly like…” a recently deceased child.

5: The Potty Training Dolls

Aquini Boy Doll on doll's potty

Drink and Wet dolls have been around for a long time, but Drink and Wet dolls sold in kits with the potty as Potty Training Dolls, especially the boy version, are a very recent variation.

Doll Play as Role Play


One of the best things about playing with dolls is that they help children grow to be better people. There are no negatives… just positives.

There is a lot that has been written about the importance of doll play, and I’m a simple doll store owner and not a psychologist, so in today’s post I’d like to just point our some of the best bullet points:

  • Doll Play is ‘unstructured’ play. In a world that is increasingly structured and scheduled, (increasingly meaning that recess and ‘gym’ are being cut further and further in America’s Schools,) doll play is unstructured and open ended.
  • Doll play is imaginative and free form – there are no scripts to follow, or ‘rules to the game’ in doll play.
  • Doll play helps teach nurturing… to take care of something smaller than yourself.
  • And doll play is an opportunity to role play, which greatly boosts children’s imaginations.

Most children’s role playing with dolls is as a parent, which is why the majority of children’s dolls sold are baby dolls. But there are many other personas that children take on while playing with dolls… Doctor or Nurse, Teacher, Boss and Hostess (not the political) Tea Party, Story Teller and many others.

It’s nice that people often think of dolls as a great gift, it helps keep me in business. But I think it’s also important to remind people why doll’s make such great gifts… it’s because they help kids become great people!


Guest post: Are simpler dolls better?

Phil on JTVGuest Blogger: Phil Wrzesinski is president and owner of Toy House and Baby Too in Jackson, Michigan, recently named “One of the 25 best independent stores in America” in the book Retail Superstars by George Whalin. You can learn more about Phil at www.PhilsForum.com.”

I often talk to mother’s groups about Play Value. One of the big ideas I try to get across is the importance of Interaction in playing with a toy. Many toys today have little interaction other than hitting a button and getting out of the way. These aren’t really toys, they are novelties.

They take the kid out of the play. The less the kid does, the less interested the kid will be in the toy.

To get the point across I’ll often ask them, “What was your favorite doll as a kid?” Many will wax poetically about their favorite doll. They’ll tell me her name, describe her in detail and even talk about all the adventures they went on together.

Then I ask them, “What did the doll do?” Invariably, they say, “Nothing.”

The doll you loved the most was most often the doll that did the least. You loved that doll precisely because of how little it did. You loved it because everything that it was all came from you. The doll’s voice was the voice you gave it. The doll’s thoughts were the thoughts that came from you. The doll’s personality was the personality that sprung from your heart.

Everything about that doll was you.

There are dolls that walk and talk and eat and go potty. They are fun and they have their place in the toy box. But the more they do, the less your child does. The less your child does, the less interaction with the toy. The doll that will be most beloved, the doll that will take up the most space in the memory box, will be the doll that did the least and required the most from you. The moms in my talks get that immediately.

Breaking the ‘Doll’ color barrier

There’s no really nice way to say it, so I’ll just blurt it out: It’s a crying shame that with 50% of American kids now ‘non-white’ ethnically, it’s still about 100% White in the children’s doll design and manufacturing world.

The numbers are a lot better in the ‘Art Doll’ world, but the Toy Industry as a whole is still pretty much ‘lily white.’

There are exceptions of course, and one, ‘The One World Doll Project,’ is the subject of today’s post.

the Doll designer Stacey McBride

Me with Stacey McBride

The One World Doll Project makes dolls of color. Beautiful Dolls. They’re a young company as far as how long they’ve been in production, so currently there are only two dolls available: Lena, an African American doll, and Valencia, an Hispanic doll (whose back story has her hailing from Mexico City.) In the pipeline are dolls from Africa and India.

Prettie Girl Doll Lena

Prettie Girl Doll Lena

Prettie Girl dolls are built to the 11½ inch fashion doll scale, so there are literally thousands of additional outfits and accessories available for them.

What makes the Prettie Girls special is that they are designed by a woman of color, to represent women of color – for little girls. They have individual personalities and ‘ethnic looks,’ as opposed to the mass produced Barbie Dolls® and her cloned sisters. No one in their right mind would ever expect to meet a woman who looked like Barbie on the street. I see women who look like the Prettie Girl dolls every day. That’s huge in my book.

Seriously, walk down any major Toy ‘Big Box’ retailer… you’ll find plenty of Black  Barbies and her clones. But they all look alike. Prettie Girls look only like themselves, and are beautiful at that. I sincerely hope that this new doll company becomes a tremendous success. Absolutely nothing against Barbie mind you… I’m just a little tired of her ‘look,’ and ready to see real ‘Dolls of Color’ and especially ‘Doll Companies of Color’ take the stage.

Prettie Girl Doll Valencia

Prettie Girl Doll Valencia

Disclosure Notice: The Pattycake Doll Company, as of the date of this post, does carry and sell Prettie Girl dolls. We were not paid nor asked to do this review. It is as the largest Ethnic Doll site on the internet, and as authors of this blog about ‘Dolls and the Doll industry,’ that we wrote this post as a comment on the industry.

Guest Post: Two ways to look at Doll Play

Phil on JTVGuest Blogger: Phil Wrzesinski is president and owner of Toy House and Baby Too in Jackson, Michigan, recently named “One of the 25 best independent stores in America” in the book Retail Superstars by George Whalin. You can learn more about Phil at www.PhilsForum.com.”

You can learn a lot about your child from how she plays with dolls. For instance, have you ever noticed that some kids love dolls but don’t play much with dollhouses while other kids prefer the dollhouses over baby dolls? There is a reason.

Kids tend to gravitate to one of two styles of play – Participant or Director.

Directorial play is for kids who love to be in charge. They set the rules. They decide the parameters. They control all the character’s motions, thoughts, and actions. They don’t take on the character role, but serve as an overseer of the action.

Doll houses are a big hit with children who prefer directorial play. So are toys where the child makes the rules and controls all the characters. Action figures, construction toys, and vehicles are their favorites. Open-ended crafts like Play Doh and blank pads of paper also intrigue and engage directorial play kids. They want to be their own boss. Don’t tell them which lines to stay inside.

Participatory play is for kids who don’t have to be in charge. They want to be one of the characters in the play. Baby Dolls allow them to take on roles such as the mom or the baby sitter. Baby dolls let them do that. Sure, they have to direct the other characters, but only so that their character can join in.

Kids who prefer participatory play don’t need to make the rules. But they do want everyone to follow the same rules. These kids tend to prefer sports, dress-up, and story-telling because they get to be a participant. They’re okay with coloring books, too. Just make sure you have plenty of crayons.

And now you understand the difference between the Barbie Doll (directorial) and the Baby Doll (participatory).

(Note: there is nothing “wrong” with either style of play and no child is exclusively one style versus the other, but by understanding their preferences, you are more likely to hit home runs with the toys you purchase for them down the road.)

Book Review: Dream Doll

Dream Doll, The Ruth Handler Story is an Autobiography. Ruth Handler is the woman behind the Barbie Doll. What makes this book review a little different, and I hope a bit more interesting, is that I decided that instead of telling you what I thought about the book, that I would instead tell you what Ruth thought about Barbie:

“When we began sculpting Barbie’s face, I insisted it not be too pretty or contain too much personality. I was concerned that if she had too much personality, a little girl might have trouble projecting her own personality on the doll, that she would not be as free to role play or fantasize through Barbie.”

“Unlike play with a baby doll – in which a little girl is pretty much limited to assuming the role of Mommy – Barbie has always represented the fact that a woman has choices.

“Beginning as early as September 1959, we received hundreds of letters from little girls begging us to make a boyfriend for Barbie. we were scared to death of boy dolls, and so was the rest of the toy trade. Boy dolls had been tried in our industry dozens of times and they’d always flopped.”


Original Skipper Dolls

“In 1964 we also introduced Skipper, Barbie’s little sister. While little girls tended to perceive Barbie as being six or seven years older than themselves, they saw Skipper as close to their own age.”

“In 1967…we brought out a Black version of Francie. …It was a dud….Was America not ready for a Black fashion doll? …research soon told us. Francie’s looks and personality were already well established in our young consumer’s minds – to them a Black Francie wasn’t Francie. The next year, having learned our lesson we brought out a completely new Black doll, Christie, and she was overwhelmingly accepted. In fact Christie stayed in the Barbie line for 17 years, till 1985.”

That’s all for this post… I only quoted some of the Barbie and other doll stuff… remember, the book is ruth Handler’s autobiography… it’s not just about Barbie or Mattel.

Is playing with dolls gender based?

In the toy industry these days, one of the ‘industry trends’ popular in the trade press and under a lot of mommy-blogger discussion, is the topic of gender and toys. Toys – the argument goes – should not be gender specific, nor should the packaging, or the marketing or the store aisles themselves.

In England, Toys R Us and Harrod’s both did away with gender segmentation of the toy aisles. And many manufacturers are now making toys that used to be considered ‘boy’s toys,’ like building sets or engineering sets, for girls. ‘Lego Friends’ and ‘GoldieBlox’ are two examples.

So the trend seems to be… as an industry… that it’s been agreed that we shouldn’t make toys specifically for one gender or the other. But when it comes to dolls, I disagree.

The Pattycake Doll Company sells thousands of Boy’s Dolls and Boy Dolls every year. But we sell many more thousands of Girl’s Dolls and Dolls for Girls each year. And we sell thousands of gender neutral soft plush character dolls like Sesame Street, Disney and Dr Seuss to both boys and girls.

Baby Boy Doll

Baby Boy Doll

There is no question that boys play with dolls, and sleep with Teddy Bears. But Boys generally don’t play with the same dolls as girls. Most boys prefer boy or gender neutral dolls. Boys will play with their sister’s dolls if that’s all there is. But boys do not generally want or ask for a baby girl doll to play with. 

Bottom line? Industry trend or not, ‘playing with dolls’ is not gender based. Both sexes play with dolls. Period.

But I don’t think we’ll ever see Barbies marketed to boys. Because the two sexes definitely have their preferences of which kinds of dolls they prefer to play with, and those preferences are gender based.

Guest Post: Barbie: Evil or Not?

Phil on JTVGuest Blogger: Phil Wrzesinski is president and owner of Toy House and Baby Too in Jackson, Michigan, recently named “One of the 25 best independent stores in America” in the book Retail Superstars by George Whalin. You can learn more about Phil at www.PhilsForum.com.”

I remember the story my grandparents told about how they were introduced to Barbie© at Toy Fair in New York. They were taken into separate rooms so that they would each give their own opinion without influence. My grandfather hemmed and hawed and wasn’t sure about it. My grandmother walked out and said to him, “You ordered a lot of them I hope?”

Ruth Handler Introduces Barbie

Ruth Handler Introduces Barbie 

While the critics of Barbie© have their points – her unattainable figure and her deep pockets (who can afford a Corvette working at McDonald’s©?) are definite cons, there are also some positives Barbie© has brought to young children everywhere. Two of the most powerful are Imagination and Aspiration.

Imagination: One thing Barbie© has done is ignite imagination. Barbie© didn’t come with scripts or stories or TV shows. Those all showed up later. Barbie© came with clothes and the kids who played with her had to create the stories behind the clothes. Barbie© wasn’t from the traditional mother/daughter world that these girls knew. They had to create the world in which their Barbie© lived. And in that imagination, these kids created worlds that had never existed.

Aspiration: Prior to Barbie©, most dolls were babies. Young girls played with them as caretakers and friends. Barbie© was the first doll that was older than the girls who played with her. Barbie was the doll they aspired to be. Besides being glamorous and fashionable, Barbie© took on the characteristics of the adult females in a young girl’s life. This changed the way young girls looked at the future. Suddenly they saw themselves being and becoming more than they ever thought possible before.

My grandmother saw all that in a private room in New York in 1959. Fortunately, she convinced my grandfather to buy a lot of them.

Barbie’s figure and other foolishness

Unless you’re living in a cave, you probably know that there are some people who think that Barbie’s ‘figure’ is damaging to a girl’s self-esteem.

I don’t think American five year olds think like that. But I’m not a psychologist, just a simple doll salesman.

My point is this: We sell 1000’s of dolls each year, and because little girls don’t have credit cards we know darn well that it’s adults who buy the dolls.

It is my firm and utter belief that when adults give a doll to a child they don’t ever say: “I hope you grow up to be just like this doll.”

I think what they say is: “Here’s a new doll for you to play with and love.”

Where I get stuck with the argument below is: ” The impossible physical proportions of the doll idolized as perfection by so many.” Who’s idolizing a Barbie doll as perfection? Five year old girls? I’ve seen some lady – in Europe I think – who is altering herself to look like Barbie. She’s pretty enough I guess, but I would hardly think that her doing that to herself is Barbie’s fault. 

And when Mattel makes a ‘Celebrity Barbie,’ like the Katie Perry or Nicki Minaj charity Barbies, does that mean little girls who idolize these singers are going to have messed up body images and self-esteem because of the impossible proportions of the dolls? (And from what I’ve seen of those two dolls, they don’t do their real life model’s assets justice either.)

Katie Perry and Nicki Minaj Charity Barbie Dolls

Katie Perry and Nicki Minaj Charity Barbie Dolls

As a doll store, in all our years selling thousands of Black, Biracial, Asian, and other Ethnic dolls, none of which have we ever presented as looking like a real person… not once has anybody returned a doll and said : “This is such an unrealistic representation of a real human body (ethnic hair style, skin tone, eye shape or whatever.) and it’s screwing up my kid’s mind.”

Just saying is all. My opinion.

via Rehabs.com

Taking a Stand – The Down Syndrome Dolls

Down Syndrome Dolls

A ‘Down Syndrome’ Doll

I admit it… when I first put the Down Syndrome dolls up on our site, I was totally unprepared for the firestorm that would follow.  The terrible comments we got, the threats and all the haters.

I admit I was a bit upset, so I went to a friend who had a child with Down Syndrome, showed her the emails and the doll and asked point blank: “Is this really as insulting and insensitive as all these people are making us out to be? Should we stop selling these dolls?”

And her answer was “Absolutely not!” These are wonderful dolls and I am so grateful that you have them.

I could write a book about all of our experiences from that time, but I think a simple bullet point list will be more succinct.

  • Our whole business at The Pattycake Doll Company is built around the concept that children love to have dolls that they can relate to, that look like them. We believe that Black children should have the option to play with Black dolls, Biracial with Biracial, Asian with Asian, Boys with Boy dolls etc. Not every doll in the world should be a white girl. Not that Black children can’t play with White dolls or White children with Black dolls, but that all these options should be available.
  • We were already carrying doll guide dogs, doll’s wheelchairs, doll’s hearing aids etc, and had learned that (for example) children in wheelchairs loved having wheelchairs for their dolls as well. And that schools and other organizations found these options were a great way to teach children to not be afraid of other children who were different.
  • Fanny Wong, the designer, got input from and consulted with many Down Syndrome organizations at every stage in the development of the doll. Their response was overwhelmingly positive.
  • Finally they were put into production and offered for sale.
  • The children who received them loved them… we never got a return.
  • But there were a lot of haters too. “My child does not look like this doll… what an insult.”  “How dare you make a doll that singles out our children for ridicule.” Etc.
  • The issue was debated all over the press. We were contacted by Time Magazine and McCleans, CNN and others as one article begat another. It was a hot topic for awhile.
  • Despite the artistry and manufacturing genius that went into the making of these soft-sculpt dolls, these are still basically cloth sacks, fiber filling, needle and thread. There is a gap besides the big toe. There are a straight hand creases embroidered across the palm. The ears are a little lower and smaller, the eyes are almond shaped, the tongue shows.

In the end though, we’re proud to be still selling these dolls. Yes there were dozens of hateful, bitter, even sad letters and emails. But compared to the dozens of negative parents, there were hundreds if not thousands of happy children who received these dolls and loved them. We think we did the right thing.