The art of teaching with dolls

As Birthlight teachers, you probably recall falling in love with your doll as you named it and practised with it on your first courses. We all have funny stories about our dolls. I cannot forget the worried face of a passenger who thought I was going to lock my baby up in a plane’s luggage compartment. I had just taught a Baby Yoga course and was handling my doll in a caring way that confused this man. In some training courses, participants do not always have dolls handy. The strangest – not ‘cute’- animal soft toys and moppets, such as a stuffed wild boar, or a plastic lobster, do not seem to frighten babies when they are used as dolls.

The strangest – not “cute” – animal soft toys and moppets … do not seem to frighten babies when they are used as dolls

– Francoise Freedman
  • Dolls facilitate the interface with babies: most babies engage with dolls and respond to dolls’ faces and movements as teachers demonstrate holds and practices.
  • Dolls support the empowering of parents with their babies. Even if we sometimes ask permission to borrow a baby for demonstration, teaching with dolls is our best way to get parents to watch and gain confidence with their infants.
  • Dolls bring a dimension of play and connection to our classes. Toddlers particularly enjoy the fun and the use of dolls to show what not to do in the class. Parents laugh and relax.
  • Dolls are invaluable to modulate rhythms and moods in classes: as teachers’ animated props, they acquire personalities of their own that can be used creatively to help babies and toddlers to relate positively to new situations, in group classes on land and in water.
  • Dolls are teaching tools: in swimming pool aquatics and in land-based Baby Yoga, both infants and parents learn through imitation, repetition and integration. Dolls are never tired of showing what to do so that infants can pick up the practices when they are ready.

Where to get the best teaching dolls?

For teaching baby massage and baby yoga, Birthlight recommends Touchneeds’ 60 cm dolls modelled on 3-4 months real-size babies. The semi-weighted version (1.6 kg) handles well for demonstrating moves and is more practical than the full weighted version (4.2 kg). Several ethnicities are available (Afro-Caribbean, Asian, Caucasian, East Asian), all attractive. The dolls costs £69 + shipping, which is not cheap, but compared to alternatives from either toy dolls or teaching dolls suppliers, they are good value.

New practical, quick drying and hardwearing dolls from China

For some time, we have been aware that the aquatic dolls supplied by Touchneeds were not designed to meet the needs of baby swimming teachers: the fabric disintegrated, the joints

.. our Birthlight tutor Judy Kou worked on designing an alternative doll

opened and were difficult to fix, the dolls took a very long time to dry up and it was awkward to transport them wet in bags. Lifetime was often quite short. We tried to find solutions with Touchneeds and their Spanish manufacturers, but none were feasible. Meanwhile our Birthlight tutor Judy Kou (Taiwan and China) worked on designing an alternative doll, which we tested and found easy to use, practical and attractive. The doll’s face, neither East Asian nor Caucasian, is perhaps not as expressive as the faces of Touchneeds dolls but the practical advantages of its original design (quick tumble drying, no seams and hardwearing materials for intensive pool use) make it a preferable choice.

Judy’s new aquatic teaching dolls can be ordered directly from European Representative Nicole Sauseng, Birthlight tutor/course organiser in Austria. Nicole posts orders within Europe.

The doll’s cost is £68 +postage.