Preschoolers and Their Babies

Eliza Clark
September 12, 2010

Our preschoolers have come a long way from their baby days, what with their walking and talking, their artwork and their acrobatics, their potty training, their scooter riding and on and on. They can do so much!  

So much, in fact, that we sometimes forget that they still have a lot of the baby they used to be on the inside. That baby is revealed in the occasional tantrum, the charmingly mispronounced words and, most delightfully, the need for frequent cuddles. The baby inside is also one reason that preschoolers so love babies.

Most preschoolers are fascinated with real babies. Baby siblings, babies in strollers on the street, babies on the bus -- they love 'em.  We recently took a bunch of preschoolers to see the wonderful documentary Babies, and they adored it. No one finds more pathos, humor and drama in the small ups and downs of baby life than a three-year-old. And while they aren't quite ready to babysit, they can provide excellent baby entertainment when called upon.

The next best thing to a real baby is, of course, a baby doll. (Indeed, dolls present certain advantages: no crying, for instance!) Doll play is significant to development, allowing young children to connect to yet differentiate from the baby they once were.  It also gives them a chance to try on the role of parent -- how wild it is to see our own parenting reflected right back at us! We are partial to the Corolle line of baby dolls, the Calin Baby Doll in particular, but there are many lovely dolls out there to choose from. Add a toy stroller, crib and bottle set, and your little one will be fully occupied for hours on end each day.

Stories about dolls are also popular with the preschool crowd.  There are lots to choose from on this theme.  For starters:

Little Mommy by Sharon Kane
An old-fashioned book, and an old favorite for many, this is the story of a day in the life of a little girl and her dolls and animals.  And what a good mommy she is!  Some might call this book outdated in its gender stereotypes, and it's true that times have changed a bit since 1967.  But young girls (and boys!) playing at being parents has not, and we don't think it will anytime soon.

William's Doll by Charlotte Zolotow
Those of us who grew up with this book know how influential a children's story can be.  If today we think nothing of giving little boys dolls to play with as well as trains, it's in large because of William's Doll.  This 1972 story is still appealing and touching to children.  They sympathize mightily with William, a boy who wants a doll but whose father objects.  Dad gives him a basketball, a train set and other "boy toys" instead.  When William's grandmother visits, she understands the problem right away and takes the boy to a store to pick out the perfect baby doll.  He wants to learn to become a father himself, she explains.  Thank goodness for wise grandmothers and this prescient book!

Kitty's New Doll
by Dorothy Kunhardt
Kitty's mother takes her to the store to pick out her very first doll - what an exciting day!  And what will she choose?  A doll that walks?  A doll that talks?  Not Kitty.  She picks a rag doll, sweet and simple.  Readers might wonder why, and Kitty tells them.  It's because her dolly can "pretend cry" and "pretend sleep" and "say anything I want her to say" - and that includes "I love you."  A sweet tribute to the world of pretend!

The Ticky-Tacky Doll
by Cynthia Rylant
As children head off to school they must leave their playthings behind.  No toy is harder to say goodbye to than a beloved doll, especially a ticky tacky doll handmade by grandma.  The little girl who loves her is bereft each school day, and only her grandmother can understand why.  This is a lovely and sensitive rendering of separation anxiety and a clever trick for remedying it.  

Doctor Squash the Doll Doctor by Margaret Wise Brown
This whimsical classic is being reissued in October with new illustrations.  We are so excited!  We love dolls, dolly doctors and of course Margaret Wise Brown.

From the Parents

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