Wooden Peg Dolls in Preschool
Updated: Aug 17
Do you use these peg dolls in your classroom? Would you like to hear how and why you can use them? Great, because I would like to tell you.
These little guys have transformed my teaching practice; they have inspired and provoked so much creativity, fine motor work, storytelling, cooperative play, and abstract thinking in my class of two and three year olds.
I only wish I could teach older children, just to see how they would choose to use them.
I have seen variations of these dolls painted in different colors and painted to look like specific characters. I love them in their plain unfinished form.
I began to use these to tell stories to my students. More specifically, stories of Jewish holidays. I have been telling the stories of Purim, Passover, and Chanukah to young children for over a decade now. I have used a variety of materials to tell the stories; puppets, popsicle sticks, corks, and other wooden figures. Whatever storytelling tool I used, it seems magical to me that it never mattered what the characters looked like or how fancy (or decidedly UNfancy) they were, the children were always mesmerized by the power of a good story.
I have even used them in, what I would think, is a much less compelling story. It was a story about children at school who often grabbed, hugged, and bumped into each other while standing in line. Guess who inspired that story? The children loved that story too, and even acted it out during play time.
When children watch, listen, learn, and retell these stories, their little minds are listening to language, integrating it into their own vocabulary, following sequences, and using an abstract person-like object to represent all sorts of people.
When they use them to tell their own stories, well, that is pure genius. Children draw from their knowledge and language to create something that never existed before.
This is early literacy. One day, these children can express their stories through the written word. But, first we give them hours and hours (years, really) of story telling practice. Let's not skip this step.
How to Introduce the Children to Peg Dolls
For the beginning of the school year, they sit in a box, unadorned. Sometimes children pull them out, and add them to block buildings. Often they forget about them. But that is okay, because I know Chanukah is coming.
In late Novemeber to early December, it is usually time to start preparing to celebrate Chanukah. I always begin with the story first, dressing up some characters with fancy fabric, a crown, and a few blocks to create scenery.
So now our box of dolls is filled with some fancy-ish characters from the Chanukah story, and some that are unadorned.
If you work with young children, you will know that at some point, more than one child will want to use the same doll at the same time. Which is when you get to, ever so nonchalantly say, "You would like a turn with the king doll? You know, you can make another king, if you'd like. Let's get some scissors and tape, and I will show you how." (You can read here for a guide to introducing tape and scissors to your students.)
When Chanukah is over, we remove all the fancy costumes, but the peg dolls, some scraps of fabric, pipe cleaners, the tape and scissors remain. And then these dolls become Anna, Elsa, moms, dads, babies, and anything else that little minds can imagine.
Paper and scotch tape can also be used to dress the guys too.
Do you use figures for storytelling in your class? How do you do it?
If you find this post helpful, please let me know, and feel free to share with parents and teachers. Let's give more children the gift of play.