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Multicultural School Dolls: Adding Color and Pizzazz

Updated on December 6, 2013

When Is a Doll Not just a Doll?

Teachers are working under more constraints than the average person, and that extends to everything down to buying a doll. First of all, it's not just a doll that needs to be invited down to the housekeeping center. No, it's a whole set of the friendly plastic people, inclusive of all races and both genders. That can get pricey, if you're not careful.

Second, those dolls have got to be durable -- there's a whole troop of kids playing with them, and you don't want to buy a set of plastic people every other year. And (particularly if you've got toddlers in the room), that doll has got to be safe, even safer than if you were the doting mom or grandma and were right there when your toddler was playing. Parents have been known to ignore that three-and-up warning. Nursery school teachers can't.

Moving along... got to take some sensory issues in to account. There's that baby powder scent that some doll companies use to dust their baby dolls? That can be a problem for some kids.

Ah, then there's size! It can be handy if the multi-ethnic dolls are a standard size, particularly if you want to introduce equipment like wheelchairs or braces.

The easiest thing is to buy a set from a school manufacturer. It's not the only option, though, and I'm not sure it's always the best. Here is a look at some of the issues, and some of the options.

Photo by the Author

School Dolls by Major Makers

Marvel Education (picture #1) These come in 5 races/ colors. They are 13-inch baby dolls. They are one of the most economical options for ethnically diverse school dolls, but I have seen some critical reviews.

Discount School Supply? *(picture #2) This is another that comes in five races. They are 16-inches -- pretty standard -- so you can get disability equipment to find them.

These dolls have moved into more of a mid-price range. For a harder-to-find ethnicity and gender (particularly, a Native American boy) this is probably your best option. You will find multi-ethnic girl dolls (not necessarily marketed to schools), though, for less. And girls may prefer the features of those other dolls.

*I have the question mark by the maker because, while the doll is available through Discount School Supply, I'm not certain of the maker.

Lakeshore Learning (picture #3) This is a well-respected maker of school supplies. As far as I know, Lakeshore dolls come in just four races. There's been no attempt yet to represent Native American.

There are washable 11-inch baby dolls for ages twelve months and up.

There are also 16-inch child dolls (not pictured) for the three-and-up crowd. The latter will fit standard equipment -- in fact, Lakeshore makes quite a bit of it. The larger dolls retail for about $35, so again, you will find multiracial girl dolls retailing cheaper from companies like Mattel. Lakeshore uses hair quality as a selling point -- that tresses will stand up to years of "years of grooming'.

You will find several other multiethnic doll lines available through Lakeshore, including rag dolls. The Baby Safe rag doll is gain available in four races.

Forming Ideas of Race (and Beauty)

Multicultural dolls don't necessarily look like people. The different races may be distinguished only by colors. Hispanic may be medium brown hair and medium brown skin while Native American is reddish brown with black hair. And sometimes -- depending on brand -- the parts don't seem to go together. The pink lips may not match the skin tone. And the clothes? Oh my...

On the one hand, having dolls in five different colors sends a clear message: People come in different colors. They aren't all blonde. So far so good!

On the other hand, this is the age of princesses, particularly for little girls. So many parents set out with academic rigor to raise a child who doesn't value physical beauty, yet somehow at the age of four... she does! She may value it more -- or at least more openly -- than older kids and adults do.

Some Things Mattel Knows Well...

Some Things Mattel Knows Well...
Some Things Mattel Knows Well...

Multiethnic Girl Dolls from Major Makers: Mattel

The "Little Mommy Sweet as Me" African American doll in the pink and gray play clothes retails for about $20. And... well, look at her! There are certain childhood sensibilities captured well indeed.

Little Mommy dolls come in black, white, Hispanic, and Asian, though you will find fewer styles with the Asian.

Another Option for Washable Dolls

Washable dolls can be an advantage when you work with little ones. What's available besides school dolls? Some major doll makers have dolls that are designed for playing bath time.

Little Mommy Scrub a Dub has painted hair which won't get tangled. Another cool thing? This doll is about a dollar cheaper than the Marvel multicultural dolls.

She's not designed for the washing machine, but she is fully submersible -- scrub a dub dub!

Bitty Babies

Children of America Dolls

These dolls were created by an African American woman who saw a need to make multi-ethnic dolls that were economical and beautiful. Overall, there is an attention to aesthetics, both in doll features and clothing.I think the ethnic features on the Asian doll are far more realistic than the ones made by the school manufacturers.

Here we find the creator introducing the dolls to four girls, who look to be kindergarten age. She talks about the dolls as girls and shares the girl's lives and dreams. If you click through onto the website, you'll see dolls on sale for about $26.

A note: These are indeed all girl dolls. It's simply easier to get them.

You & Me Friends

The You & Me Friends line is by Toys R Us. You'll find them in four races. The Caucasian dolls can be found with different hair colors -- even red. Some of the dolls have glasses. (I can't vouch for how durable they are.)

Again, these are little girl dolls. I have seen quite a few styles -- and I have seen them advertised by multiple sellers. Some are under $20, others above $40. I looked for good deals here.

Multicultural Boy Doll

Multicultural Boy Doll
Multicultural Boy Doll

An Option for Multicultural Boy Dolls: Cloth

Cloth dolls are made in both genders and often are suited for very young children. Haba has some that are multicultural in dress and hair style as well as coloring.

Bitty Twin Display - Seattle
Bitty Twin Display - Seattle

Bitty Twins: Boy and Girl Dolls

Bitty Twins come in boy and girls. They have charming ethnic features, and real kid appeal. They are sold in pairs, but you can opt for two boys if you like -- and even mix races.

The dolls have some disadvantages, too. One: they're a little more expensive. Online, they are sold in sets (two dolls and a book) for $105.

It's also worth noting that while they may be "bitty", they aren't designed for the very youngest. They are a three-and-up doll. With soft bodies (but vinyl limbs), they aren't as easy to clean as some.

An advantage may be the hair. I can't compare the Bitty Twin hair to that of high quality school dolls like Lakeshore, but I know that parents often cite hair quality as a reason that AG is preferable to cheaper dolls.

Ah, and such charming features on little boy dolls!

I had to laugh at what I saw advertised recently on eBay: two boys and a girl. Yes, Bitty Triplets!

One option would be to try to buy some used. Another would be to reach out to the school community for donations. Children do tend to outgrow them and move onto other types of dolls.

Multiethnic Doll Donations?

Seeking multicultural materials for your classroom -- and having trouble affording them?

JC Toys Ethnic Dolls - Sensory Issues?

JC Toys dolls have charming ethnic features and there are economy options. They would have been a top been a top pick, but like many dolls from high end companies, they have a scent. The scent could be a problem for some.

Unfortunately, Corolle dolls also have a vanilla-like scent.

Let's Talk Dolls!

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    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      My sister tutored reading in the school system a while back and she told of a wonderful teacher, I think second grade, who actually made a doll for every one of her students each year to look like them, I thought that was so cool. You certainly considered many issues here that folks may have to look at with multicultural school dolls that will be helpful, I just think they are great!

    • Lee Hansen profile image

      Lee Hansen 5 years ago from Vermont

      The choices were fewer 42 years ago, but my older daughter requested an African American baby doll for Christmas that year and she still has that cherished dolly. I'm happy to see multicultural dolls in many different varieties available on the toy market - toys that reflect our real world are important to child development.

    • mysweetjane lm profile image

      mysweetjane lm 5 years ago

      some of these are so cute! I'm glad to see that the Barbie and Ken aren't the standards any more in doll world and that dolls reflect society

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      i love this lens.

    • indigoj profile image

      Indigo Janson 5 years ago from UK

      Great to see this much diversity among dolls, including with the boy dolls. I think Disney has actually helped with the whole 'pretty Princess' thing as we've seen female characters who are both beautiful and courageous from a variety of ethnic backgrounds: Mulan, Pocahontas, Jasmine, Tiana. It's helped move things on from the Northern European fairytale writers of the 19th century with their golden haired girls who reflected their own culture.

    • aesta1 profile image

      Mary Norton 5 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      It used to be hard to find some but now there are lots. What a change indeed.