Dolls’ Houses

Dolls’ houses provide for a rather different kind of play where rearranging a whole selection of household items can be carried out. The child necessarily sees himself as totally outside this environment which he or she has the power to rearrange. Instead of playing the part of mother or father themselves they ask for a set of dolls to include mother, father and baby dolls.

There is a wide choice of dolls’ houses to buy as far as outward features are concerned but if a few basic commonsense rules are applied the number which are really suitable for successful play dwindles rapidly. There should be plenty of scope for rearranging furniture, which makes elaborate interior decorations limiting; there should be plenty of elbow room to allow easy access, so open sides are best; there should be room for two children to play, especially for nursery-group use, so access should be possible at two different sides – those houses which open only at the front do not allow for this. Even if only one child is going to play with it more can be done with a very simple house than an elaborate one. It is possible to buy one completely open-sided dolls’ house providing two floors each with four rooms. This has been deservedly popular for a good ten years. Units which’can be piled on top of each other, and a final roof section added, are also a good choice since two children could if necessary each have one unit to play a separate game. The child who asks for a dolls’ house just like the one she lives in is expressing a rather different need. If no one in the family can make such a house perhaps some improvised structure is the answer.

Good dolls’-house play is fairly rare in the nursery group for various reasons. The staff sometimes think that this is a home rather than a group activity, or the provision is rather inadequate, or the furniture is too fragile and breaks, or sometimes it is too stylized and pieces of solid wooden furniture are seen as interesting objects to be absorbed into other play activities. Quite often the best dolls’-house play occurs with improvised material. Four similar fibre-board cartons with the top and two sides removed provides for four rooms which can be glued together or used separately. These can be wallpapered by the children with a little supervision and improvised furniture made from miscellaneous bits and pieces. Some children have had their fun by the time the boxes are decorated and equipped. Others will go on playing house for quite a long time. For one rainy afternoon’s play at home, or to provide a change for one nursery-group session, shoe-boxes with the lid removed and doors and windows cut out are popular. Cereal or other cardboard cartons can be used as thick walls glued on to a cardboard base. None of these lasts long but they can be thrown away and more material provided when the children want to do this again.

One of the most useful aspects of doll’s-house play is the con- versation opportunities it gives to children whose language is restricted. Groups which have to deal with this problem should consider the value of dolls’ houses in this light, in addition to that of giving an opportunity for imaginative play.