From the time a newborn baby’s vision becomes clear enough to distinguish them, human faces are the baby’s most frequently studied form. The blissful gazes that the newborn bestows from the crook of her mother’s arm (when that distance is the exact measurement of the baby’s limited focal length) let every parent know that what the baby needs most of all is interaction with the human form. Studies show that when given the option of two different photographs, the baby turns his or her head towards the photograph of a human face two to three times more than any other image. Even my two-year-old nephew, whose most adored objects are toy cars, prefers the cars from a well-known Disney movie, because they have eyes, mouths and expressions like humans.
From the moment she arrives on the earth, the baby makes it her business to learn what it means to be human. This natural fascination with the human face is how even the youngest baby can begin to learn about the world. It is no wonder, then, that the most natural first toy for a baby would be something based on the human form — the doll.
It is through play that children not only learn about the physical world, but they also develop and shape themselves. Experiences that they’ve had are worked through and transformed in their play so that they become integrated into the constitution of the child. In this way, we can see play as supremely important as it literally creates the child.
This process is never more tangible to me than when I am watching a child play with a doll. The doll can be a very transparent way for parents and teachers to observe the development and becoming of the child. I’ll never forget one day when I was teaching preschool and the children were completely engrossed in the world they had created with the dolls. The more interested they were, the richer the ir world became, and the more dolls they suddenly realized they needed. I watched with astonishment as the children bustled around the room gathering all of the blankets and cloths they could find, creating dolls by bundling up a cloth to create a head and then putting an open cloth over the top to create the body — instantly giving life to the simple materials. As I watched them literally create the physical bodies of these dolls I thought of the work that they must do to create their own physical bodies everyday. The makeshift quality of the “dolls” didn’t bother them in the least, and the physical and imaginative work that was required was of tremendous benefit.
Typical Waldorf dolls have this simple, undistinguished quality, to allow the children to create and form the details with their imaginations. Though this simplicity is important for preserving the imagination, the creative work required of the child allows her to work upon her own development. There are many companies that sell Waldorf dolls or kits for making them. Here are a few of the sites I am familiar with.
Holli’s Dollies — I’ll begin with this one because not only is Holli a friend of mine, but she also creates the most beautiful Waldorf dolls I have ever seen. Though she keeps the details on the dolls themselves simple, she creates beautifully simple clothing with an eye for detail. Truly beautiful.
Joy’s Waldorf Dolls — Though I recall that Joy retired a few months ago, her website is still up and promises that soon her dolls and the supplies for making them will be sold by other well-known companies. Joy has been a Waldorf doll institution for years, providing dolls themselves and doll-making supplies (including the ones I used to make my first Waldorf doll 12 years ago).
Kathe Kruse Waldorf Dolls — Kathe Kruse dolls (sold here on the Waldorf Treasures website) are beautifully simple. Their faces seem a bit more formed than some other Waldorf dolls I’ve seen but they are solidly made and readily found.
Magic Cabin Dolls — Though the catalogs that have been arriving at my house from Magic Cabin these days have been displaying toys that are much more formed and developed than I remember seeing in the catalog when my children were little, I was pleased to find that they do still carry those very simple toys. They carry several different styles of dolls and kits with everything you need to make them yourself. I made a starbaby doll from one of their patterns years ago and found it very easy to read and follow.
There are so many beautiful dolls out there, that it is easy to be swept away by the magic, forgetting that the intention of the doll is for the child to do the forming himself. It is best to start out as simple as possible. Some teachers suggest that the child receive a small bunting doll at age 2 1/2 or 3 and not receive a complete doll with arms and legs until 6 or 7. This approach would follow the development of the child whose physical awareness enters into his or her limbs and extremities last of all. I have seen dolls of all types loved and played with by children of various ages. The important thing is that the doll be free enough to be a vehicle for the child’s imaginative, creative work.