What Kids Learn by Playing With Dolls and Figures

Two girls playing, dressed as doctor and nurse
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Dolls and figures give your toddler a way to act out the scenes he or she sees in everyday life. She can bathe, change, feed, and cuddle her baby doll mimicking the way you nurture her. He can build a home of blocks and a city and drive his mother or father figurine to work and safely explore the emotions of separation. If she has a sibling, she might act out real-life scenarios that are on her mind, working out things like how to cooperate and share beloved toys. He might practice empathy when caring for an injured or hungry animal figure.

It's no wonder that child therapists frequently use dolls when working with young children. Sit back and watch your child play in these ways and you'll be opening a new window into how she feels and how her thinking is developing. Psychology aside, dolls and figures allow your child to create whatever world he wants at that moment—no batteries required. 

Choosing the Right Dolls and Figures for Your Toddler

Toddlers love all sorts of dolls and figures. Some really enjoy those that are very life-like and made of materials that are rubbery, while others appreciate lighter rag dolls. Dolls that have a lot of hair or difficult clothing can be a bit of a pain in the toddler stage, but preschoolers and young school-age children love these types of dolls and associated grooming activities.

Other dolls that will stimulate new types of play are miniature dolls or figures like small people (such as the Fisher Price Little People sets) or farm animal sets. Dolls that teach self-help skills like buttoning, lacing, snapping, and zipping are also good choices.

Doll and Figures Storage

Dolls can easily be stored in buckets on shelves or inside of related toys like carriages or strollers. Some toddlers love their dolls so much, they want to keep them on their bed, which clears valuable shelf space for other toys.

Rules for Dolls and Figures

There are very few rules that dolls and figures require. They're not too messy and don't have a lot of parts. Other rules that might arise may come from common inappropriate play. But it's best to set those rules as trouble comes your way so that you're not putting ideas into your toddler's head.

It's seldom that a doll escapes getting a haircut or getting a makeover with markers, but mentioning it to your toddler is sure to bring it about sooner.

Dolls and Figures Are Good for Boys Too

Boys and girls alike should have access to dolls and figures in their play. Men should be involved, nurturing fathers and playing with dolls is one way for little men-to-be to practice these skills just as girls do. Dolls and figures also help toddlers, both male and female, practice problem-solving and real-life skills in a safe, fun way.

2 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Schärer JH. Supporting Young Children’s Learning in a Dramatic Play Environment. J Child Stud. 2017;42(3):62-69. doi:10.18357/jcs.v42i3.17895

  2. Trawick-Smith J, Russell H, Swaminathan S. Measuring the effects of toys on the problem-solving, creative and social behaviours of preschool childrenEarly Child Dev Care. 2011;181(7):909-927. doi:10.1080/03004430.2010.503892

Additional Reading

By Stephanie Brown
Stephanie Brown is a parenting writer with experience in the Head Start program and in NAEYC accredited child care centers.