". . .the word of God is not bound." II Tim. 2:9b

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Unstructured Play Week, Day 1: Paper Doll Play

"God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them."  Genesis 1:27 NASB

Experts emphasize that kids need unstructured play time in their day. This week on Christian Teacher, Public School, we focus on the joys and benefits of "open-ended play that has no specific learning objective," as verywell.com defines unstructured play. As youngsters learn about themselves and the world around them, they need times when they are allowed to self-direct their learning.

In unstructured play, adults may be present, but are not orchestrating play toward an objective. Kids choose what to play and how to play, and adults provide the time, space, and materials for that to happen.

Which brings us to one form of unstructured play that's close to my heart: paper dolls.

As with other play activities, when playing with paper dolls, kids will unknowingly meet some learning objectives their parents and teachers have in mind for them. kids have fun while honing their fine motor skills (cutting out, folding), social skills (especially verbal interaction), storytelling, and creativity. They think through scenarios like "Which outfit is best for this occasion?", "Do these clothes match?", "How will the doll react to another doll's behavior?", and "What goes into planning a ball or a dinner?" This is low-tech, open-ended play with no unnecessary frills. Girls and boys of nearly any age can play, and Grandmas love to get in on the game.

I've loved paper dolls since I was a little girl. It started with playing in the church basement during the evening worship service. One of the single ladies of the church had a ministry of caring for kids during one service per week. She brought in many types of activities for unstructured play, but the only one I remember was the paper dolls. My best friend and I were never happier than playing Barbie and Princess Di, both of whom had dozens of dresses and other outfits to choose from.

Grumpy Cat Paper Dolls
Later, in the homeschool group to which my family belonged, we were studying the Pilgrims, and my mother bought the first paper dolls I remember owning, Tom Tierney's American Family of the Pilgrim Period from Dover Publications. (Mom, incidentally, knew the magic of paper dolls, having played with Karen and Cubby from the Mousketeers and Pebbles and Bamm-Bamm from the Flintstones when she was a girl). She used the Pilgrim dolls along with other resources to teach us about life in early America. Meanwhile, I fell in love with paper dolls all over again. My collection had begun!

Paper dolls gave me an early passion for fashion history. They also taught me some basic principles of line, symmetry, proportion, and other elements of style that have helped me in many ways, not the least of which is in sewing clothing.

My daughter has inherited my love of paper dolls, and inherited many of my old paper doll sets, too. As a teacher and homeschool mom, I still love to scoop up coloring books, classic literature, and of course paper dolls from Dover.

There are countless classroom applications for these products (for which this blog is an affiliate), but they are also a natural fit for unstructured play at home. I love to see paper dolls all over my floor and my daughter's imagination at work. Since she is the only daughter among three children, she enlists my help with cutting out the dolls and their clothes (a nicely therapeutic activity) and, yes, playing with them. Last time, we used mostly Renaissance and Colonial-era sets. I was amazed at how many we had!

We started with the Christopher Columbus set (currently out of print) by Tom Tierney, my favorite paper doll artist. Then we rounded up dolls from other sets that (kind of) went with the time period. Okay, Princess Diana was an anachronism, but she has the best dresses! My favorite set of all time is Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy (OOP), and they got to play this time, too, despite their worn tab folds and missing hats. Their outfits from the movie New Moon and Naughty Marietta roughly fit our time period.

Another set we used for the first time was Colonial Fashions, which my husband had reserved for my daughter from his used book business. As it turned out, this set provided many eligible bachelors to attend our balls. The two female dolls come with many dresses, while the pre-clothed men are numerous. That way, even when Christopher Columbus and his crew were off sailing, there were plenty of men to dance with.

My daughter's Fashions of the Old South dolls might have been a bit ahead of their time for our game, but we still fit them in. Adding soldiers reminded me of the paper doll wars of my childhood, when my sisters and I would recruit every doll we owned for a reenactment of the Civil War. Even Jo March from Little Women joined up!

Paper doll sets are wonderful as educational aids, but can also be a natural arena for unstructured, imaginative play all year long. When kids get the hang of cutting them out and dressing them, they may even begin making their own from card stock, decorative papers, feathers, and fabric (some of the same materials you keep on hand for gift wrapping, card- and ornament-making, sewing, or scrapbooking).

I hope you enjoyed this journey into the world of paper dolls. Please leave a comment, and stop by throughout the week for more ideas for unstructured play! Tomorrow it's Kitchen Chemistry and Cooking Fun.

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