Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Waldorf Dolls

Lately, I have been seeking, trying to be open minded, questioning, curious regarding Waldorf dolls. I've been reading this. The thing about it is, I am attracted to the beauty of these dolls. But why does my kid almost always prefer the very formed, little-left-to-the-imagination plastic babies? She has never received one from me, but grandparents, in their attempts to delight their grandchild, have given her plenty of those types of dolls. She has too many. I try to take them away, and like many toys that get left in the basement bags to be given to Goodwill (since they're not good enough for my kid, they'll be good enough for someone else's...hmph) they inevitably find their way back to the play areas of the house. Then that means I have not treated a doll-one my daughter has cared for, looked after, imaginatively played with- as the image of a human being, deserving of respect and a rightful place in the home. She has already claimed this doll for herself, as herself...a doll Steiner says is ugly.
I am exploring this. I do tend to shun things that are dogmatic just for dogma's sake, and perhaps after further inquiry I will come away with a different viewpoint. My questions are: why do children seem to prefer the realistic looking plastic baby dolls? How does it harm a child's imagination? How is it artistic to uphold only one way of making a Waldorf doll? (in that question, I am referring to the "style" of doll that is considered a Waldorf doll. There is very little variation in their basic form and look. I would like to explore other simple dolls that fall into the Waldorf principles, for I see it as being materialistic to have just one way of doing it...and perhaps I am being materialistic to have to have "proof" about the whole doll thing. But I digress.) Wouldn't a simpler doll sewn from cotton be closer to the point?
I played with Barbies as a child, and remember all the different things the Barbies did. I had imagination. Barbie was even fat in my imagination. Her clothes didn't always fit her strange anatomy anyway. I know I am spouting off the same responses others have had about this doll business, but I do think it is important to have good answers and reasons for doing something. So, this is my journey, foremost as a parent, and it will inform my work as a teacher.
A few things I do agree with. I do believe dolls are an extension of ourselves, and children especially imprint on a doll as such. So, I do tend to be militant at home when I see babies casually thrown around instead of in their beds or "visiting" each other. They must have clothes or a blanket. This is modeling self-care to a child. I do believe a doll made by a parent is so much better than any doll you could get anywhere, even if the doll made is so incredibly simple. A return to the values of simplicity requires that we give up a certain amount of worship of the manufactured item, and give credence to something made with the heart.
I read in Farmer Boy about Almonzo's Christmas and how he was so excited to receive a pair of socks that were store-bought, not made. I thought it was kind of sad that here he had such a rich life...full of reliance on himself and family, and his mother worked so hard to supply her family with their basic needs, and he reveled in a pair of store-bought socks. I'm sure it was the novelty.
So, in weeks ahead, I hope to update about my searching and inner work, and hope my journey and vulnerability might help someone else having these same questions.
By the way, Waldorf is not a religion, so I do not believe I am being heretical in any way. Steiner espoused doing things out of freedom in order to live the regretless life. But, there is an element of dogma in the whole movement, so I was referring to that. The dogma, for me, does not ruin or discredit in any way the fabulous system of education Waldorf is. Maybe I am just feeling especially fearless right now!


  1. Wow! You hit home with that one for me. Yesterday, i found a pile of Main Lesson books and drawing that I had done as demos for my boys when I was homeschooling them using the Waldorf curriculum. I lived near Spring Valley NY at the time and took part in the teacher training there fore awhile and Waldorf homeschooling was frowned upon. I did it anyway along with a wonderful group of others. Eventually, there was a loosening of the view that there was something wrong with it. I think that part of that was the fact that there were new perspectives within the tradition that had been moving into the teaching staff at the college. Anyway, I made Waldorf dolls for my boys. One loved it, the other had no interest in anything but GI Joe type figures. They were just totally different temperaments and it holds true today. I also think that part of the attraction for the 'store bought' is that the larger culture seeps in and the child naturally moving outward is attracted to that which is part of the 'out there'. I remember as a child, desperately wanting clothes that were store bought, not made (so lovingly and beautifully hand stitched by my mother). Despite that craving, today I am as hand made and natural and rejecting of the commercial ugliness as anybody could be in this culture and survive. My boys, too, after a period of 'forgetting' what they grew up with are moving back to the source of their nurturance. I don't know if that makes any sense and I have gone on and on here, sorry. I think I wanted to say that things just go around and around with us as we grow, spiraling, ya know. I think that you are doing the right thing by teaching respect for the human figure in whatever form it is created. It also teaches tolerance of differences. Modeling what you believe may not get an immediate reaction but it is incorporated in who are children become.

  2. Amazing. I loved reading your post for I am going down a similar road. The babe barely glances at his Waldorf-y Under the Nile cloth doll but gives his vinyl bald headed baby doll hugs and kisses and already pretends to feed him. In the case of the baby dolls I feel like it's the realism that makes them win out. My baby looks at the vinyl cheapo dolly and sees someone that looks to him like a baby - baby's have big shiney eyes, pouty lips, bald heads, sweet little ears and noses etc. The Waldorf type babies have beady eyes, often lack a nose and lips. I haven't really reconcilled this with my feelings on Barbie, who I oppose, because I feel she is part of the sneaking sexualization of children, through age compression marketing techniques. I also feel beauty is in the eye of the beholder and I must admit, as a small girl I was infatuated with my barbies. Still, I think my neice will be recieving Only Hearts Club dolls instead from me.

  3. Very interesting! I adore waldorf dolls a-la South African style. They are less styled and not as tightly stuffed. The result is a kinder and cuddlier doll that the kids like more. The American dolls are all so cutesie and the heads are really wide. They are lovely but not what my children [or me] resonate to.

    We have a plastic doll in the house [it was mine when I was a little girl] and it is seldom played with. The favourite dolls are Rainbow dancer [Ive blogged her] and Pumpkin. Pumpkin has been handed down through 3 familes and has needed to be repaired extensively. But she is very loved and teasured. Ironically her hair is acrylic and the stuffing used was also acrylic. - lol

    have a lovely day my kindred spirit! :-)



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