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One of the oldest intact dolls in existence other than predated wooden ones is from around the 1500’s and belonged to a little European princess. It is in a case, probably an airless vacuum case, in a museum in Monaco. One can look at the the doll and imagine the long-dead child and other children who played with it several centuries ago. One can imagine the doll being passed down generation by generation between then and now when it was gently handled and its history chronicled until it became finally in a museum collection. One can imagine the people, individuals and whole families, preserving it as best as they could given preservation techniques of their times and passing the dolly onward through time to be for now at the museum to see and ponder.

Monaco National Museum: Automatons and Dolls of … – Atlas Obscura

Organized by Madeleine de Galea during the 19th century, the collection at the Monaco National Museum: Automatons and Dolls of Yesteryear has been called one of the creepiest in the world. Exhibits inside of the Charles Garnier-designed villa include a seemingly endless display of costumed characters in beautiful …

Dolls, stuffed animals and other toys, such as trucks, are instructive. They teach youngsters about the roles that they will have when they grow up into adulthood. They show the expectations about the ways to dress, behave and live (i.e., when a child is putting a ballgown on a doll when the doll is out at a pretend party vs a nightgown when she is tucked in a doll bed or simply covered with a cloth on the floor).

With baby dolls, children are taught to be parents. With truck toys, they learn about properties of the Earth — such as sand in a sandbox. With stuffed animals, they learn to care for and have compassion for other species.

I, myself, had a little stuffed elephant. Its outer surface was soft and gray. It smelled wonderful since it was filled with cinnamon wood. It had been given to me by my grandparents when I was young and I adored it. So I slept with it every night and cradled it in love against my body. During the day, I had it in my lap and read it stories about elephants and would excitedly explain that these are your relatives. Wow, aren’t they amazing and wonderful, I related!

Not only was this (what is called) symbolic play, which starts around one year old for humans, useful for me to learn to care for other kinds of life than just humans, it advanced my reading skills and knowledge of the world around me. It made me love elephants and other creatures, their habitats and more way beyond my little toy — which was a little kick-off for my exploration to cement my love and desire for protection of the natural world. It does the same process for all children, who are exposed to the wonders of everything around themselves and themselves, too!

All in all, toys teach human expectations about many aspects of existence, including desired gender related roles and the orientation of the surrounding culture. They normalize certain behaviors and conditions — the ones introduced to children whatever they might be.

One of my friends back in the 1980’s knew this understanding well. Her two children would be terrorized when getting off of the school bus on the way home from the bus stop as other children would attack them with water guns.

My friend didn’t approve of guns, but got tired of her children being bullied by older children (who in years to come may become thugs with real guns since it is easy to graduate into a more real form of some behavior) with toy guns.

Finally fed up with her children’s terror to be outdoors even after they’d come home from school on a school bus, she bought them both giant toy machine guns that could squirt water hard, far and fast. She told me that her very young son and daughter only needed to use them a few times before they were left alone to play peacefully by themselves instead of carry out mock war or gang violence games with the other neighborhood children.

She was a university librarian. Her husband was a professor. When I met my friend, their children were a girl — aged six — and a boy — aged eight. They lived in a low income neighborhood due to overpopulation in their region making affordable housing in middle class and upper class neighborhoods inaccessible. Besides, they were trying to save money for their children’s college and their own eventual retirement. So only a slums neighborhood would do given the circumstances

In this neighborhood where they lived, the children divided up along racial, religious and cultural lines. So her while children were always targeted by others until they temporarily outgunned the others. (The mother only gave them the water machine guns again when they started being bullied once again. Otherwise, she kept them hidden in the closet.)

The only way for this sort of terrible behavior to truly stop is for parents, teachers, religious leaders, guidance counselors and others to redirect children into new patterns. This is hard to do, especially when certain children have certain forms of mental illness that give them a proclivity to appreciate violence, power and superiority over others.

It is also hard to do when certain toys teach them that mock slaughter is  acceptable and fun, especially when in an overall culture that appreciates guns,  bombs and war. It is especially so in a culture that loves winning against others  who are dismissed as lesser, inconsiderable human beings and who use toys like GI Joe rather than a little stuffed elephant to train their children into the norms of their cultures

“You must work – we must all work to make the world worthy of its children.” – Pablo Casals

Sally Dugman is a writer from MA, USA

 

 

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