I have dollhouses on the mind lately. As I prepare to move out of state and pour over the stuff in my house (I am not a collector but it is amazing what accumulates) and decide where things go–the dump, re-sale shop or our next house–I came across my mom’s dollhouse that was passed on to me. It is truely an antique as her dad had it made for her over 80 years ago. It was ahead of it’s time with electric lights throughout and a long driveway to come up to the garage, probably because my grandpa loved his automobiles, as he called them.The story goes that when he surprised my mom with it, he hid his cigar down the chimney to have her believe that a real fire was burning in the fireplace! I spent hours in my imagination land, arranging and rearranging the dining room table and play food, the dolls in and out of their beds and going up and down the stairs.
As we took off for North Carolina last week, we packed our Lundby dollhouse to share with our 7 year-old granddaughter. Now kids can be kind of fickle as to what toys they are attracted to. She is not a doll person but loves stuffed animals and has moved through the unicorn phase to kittens.
A dollhouse is a fantastic venue to role-play, act out experiences and try new story lines with a miniature family, furniture and accessories. Caroline immediately started arranging the accessories, placing a bag on each bedpost with a kitten in it, moving the lit Christmas tree front and center, and taking the gnome to the potty and out on the deck to eat. Her customization included transforming the living room into a “Pet Room” with kittens, mommy cats, bed and water bowl. I can’t say I ever did that with my dollhouse but that’s what makes dollhouse play so flexible and personal–you can try out your storyline customized to your interests. As a matter of fact, Lundby encourages some DIY activities that includes making a frame out of beads. Both Caroline and her brother were busy making a dog and dragon out of their beads when we arrived so it was an easy transition to making a picture frame (she wanted her artwork on the walls) which moved on to blue and red french fries and a hot dog.
As I was invited to play with Caroline with the dollhouse I was reminded of how our pretend play with a dollhouse encourages and strengthens essential learning skills:
- language skills: Caroline asked me which kitty I wanted “to be” as we chose our animals for role-play. Children assign roles, develop and negotiate plots, and carry on dialogue, while they re-enact familiar activities in their daily life or try out new scenarios. They use language and expressions they have heard from Mom, Dad or other adults as well as generate their own, learning the power of language!
- social skills: As playmates choose different characters to represent they can try out different social/emotional roles. They behave differently if they are the mommy cat or her kitten, learning to portray a character and how he or she must feel. Kids learn to take turns, even in negotiating the plot’s twists and turns. Little brother entered the play and chose the roof for a slide. That took us off into a new area and eventually big sister had to ask him to stop:)
- creativity: Each room is a blank canvas as kids turn a living room into a pet shop, patio into a garden and family room into a gnome’s play room. Any dollhouse has open-ended play opportunities but some designed to be DIY give kids even more freedom to add their creative touches such as Hape’s DIY Dream House with its empty picture frames and magnetic wall accessories to move about, as well as Plan Toys’ Creative Play House with modular rooms, movable staircase and walls , 2 solar cell roofs that can flip and become a garden, and 2 glass fences. Kids provided some solar energy and even designed a tennis court on the roof!
- fine motor skills: As Caroline adeptly re-arranged furniture, plugged in electric lights and handled the tiny accessories, I watched her deal with her pretend world on a miniature scale. Parents are often looking for activities to strengthen fine motor skills for handwriting. Did they think of playing with a dollhouse?