Πέμπτη 13 Οκτωβρίου 2016

The Persona Doll Approach

The Persona Doll Approach
The Persona Doll approach offers an effective, stimulating, non-threatening and enjoyable way to combat discrimination, foster emotional literacy, raise equality issues and empower children at the Foundation Stage and at Key stages one and two. The Dolls and their stories develop children's ability to empathise, to appreciate that name calling, teasing, exclusion from play and treating other people unfairly causes pain and unhappiness just like hitting, kicking and other physical responses do. Children are encouraged to stand up when they experience or witness unfairness and prejudice. A tall order but if the Dolls are embedded in an anti-discriminatory and culturally appropriate curriculum they are well able to meet the challenge.
The birth of the Dolls

Persona Dolls were first used in the United States. At that time, the 1950s, very few resources were available that reflected the ethnic diversity of children. Two teachers Kay Taus and her colleague Ruth moaned and groaned about this unfair and unacceptable situation. One day they took action.
They created dolls out of card and matched their skin colours and physical features as accurately as they could to the children in their nursery school. Personas were developed for each doll and stories based on children's experiences, were woven around the Dolls. The children quickly identified and bonded with them.
What are they?

Persona Dolls are not ordinary Dolls; nor are they puppets. Teachers and practitioners by giving the dolls their own individual personas change them from being inanimate objects into 'people' with individual personalities, family, cultural and class backgrounds, names, gender and ages. To ensure that the personas they create are detailed and authentic, important facts are included such as who the Dolls live with, where they live and sleep, the language(s) they speak, their likes and dislikes; the things they are good at and the ones they find difficult, the things that make them happy and those that upset, frighten and worry them.
If possible, Persona Dolls need to be huggable, unique, special and different from the dolls in the home corner.
The Dolls need to reflect the children in the group. However, where all the children are from the same ethnic or cultural group, speaking the dominant language and having no obvious disabilities, it is important to introduce Dolls that do not reflect the children. Everyone needs to be careful that they are not reinforcing stereotypes when selecting Dolls, developing personas or creating stories. It's a good idea to introduce a boy Doll first to capture the attention of the boys and because children often think all Dolls are girls and only for girls. Boy Dolls provide opportunities to break down stereotypes the children may have absorbed. For example, by saying that pink is a boy Doll's favourite colour, is likely to provoke a reaction from the boys and the girls. Stories can help children respect those who are different from them and appreciate the many things they have in common. They all have eyes, skin and hair even though the colour, shape and texture may be different. For example, one of the Dolls could tell the children about how happy she is because she now has a hearing aid and can hear what people are saying. Perhaps later a story could be told about her being teased or excluded because she's different.
Developing personas
The whole staff team needs to agree the gender, ethnicity, class, family structure, type of home, religion, cultural background, languages spoken, physical features, skin colour, special abilities and disabilities, likes and dislikes. of each of the Dolls. Especially for Dolls from cultures with which practitioners and teachers are unfamiliar, they need to make sure that they give appropriate names and pronounce them correctly. Names should fit the dolls’ personalities and cultural backgrounds. These basic details remain constant though circumstances may change, e.g. a new baby, moving house. The persona for each Doll needs to be written down in her/his book and all the stories created around her/him, added. Many settings/schools have a range of Dolls to reflect all the children in the group as well as those not present i.e. a setting/school may have a Sikh Doll but not have any Sikh children. In this way a wide range of equally valued and respected lifestyles, cultures, languages and abilities are presented to the group.
Dolls with stories to tell
With the Doll sitting on the story-teller's lap and in her/his everyday speaking voice the Doll is introduced to the children. The story-teller and the children have a conversation about what has happened to the Doll, how she/he is feeling and, when necessary, what can be done to help her/him sort out problems. In the process children become decision makers and problem-solvers, a role that helps boost reasoning, reflection, self-esteem and confidence. Through their identification with the Dolls they are helped to see the injustice of the situations the stories describe and are motivated to think of solutions to the problems the Dolls 'tell' them about. Empathising with the Dolls encourage children to stand up for themselves and others when encountering unfairness. It is important that stories about happy events and situations as well as discriminatory, unhappy ones are told. Children are concerned about the Dolls and eager to help them especially when the stories highlight situations or experiences that they consider are unfair.
During interactive Persona Doll sessions, story-tellers have high expectations of each and every child and they offer support to those experiencing physical or verbal abuse from other children or adults. They listen to each child's contribution, support children when necessary and encourage. everyone to talk about the story and how it made them feel. Children's powers of observation and understanding of the world around them are often under-estimated and may surprise story-tellers.
Accepting and acknowledging that some children's ideas about the right way to act and interact will not match theirs, most story-tellers check that they don't unconsciously respond more positively to the children who are most like them. They recognise that the body language children learn may be different from their own. For example, many Black children are taught that looking at an older person straight in the eye is disrespectful and impolite whereas many White children are taught to look directly at an adult when they are spoken to: a sign of frankness and honesty.
In the relaxed, informal and supportive atmosphere of the story-telling session, children have lots of opportunities to say what they think and feel about the issues being presented to them through the Dolls. Story-tellers guide the session by asking scaffolding questions to capture the children's interest and encourage them to reflect critically on what they and their peers have said. As different stories gradually connect up in their heads, so their understanding of quite complex social issues develops. Their questions and any topics that have captured their interest can be explored in more detail in other areas of the curriculum particularly citizenship at key stages one and two. By presenting a range of scenarios and problems for children to assess, explore and solve, the Dolls through the stories they 'tell', open up a world of possibilities and encourage children to imagine and talk about what it might be like to live through situations that they have not personally experienced. When sharing their cultural traditions and learning about those of their friends, recognising and challenging stereotypes, their intellectual horizons are extended and their general knowledge expanded. Being part of a creative and stimulating group activity can be an enjoyable self-affirming experience. If they feel safe, secure and comfortable with adults and their peers, they are more likely to contribute their ideas, feelings and experiences.
Persona Doll and their stories boost confidence, self-esteem, identity formation and motivation to learn. They provide a valuable tool to enhance communication and language as well as encouraging personal social and emotional development – both required by the revised framework for the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS).
The Dolls and the story-tellers have whispered conversations. Story-tellers convey to the children everything that the Dolls have come to 'tell' them. Sometimes the stories are about happy experiences like going to the park, having a sleepover, visiting grandparents or celebrating a festival. At other times the stories focus on hurtful incidents such as being excluded from play, name calling, being physically hurt or teased. When the story-teller needs to ask the Doll for information, s/he whispers in the Doll's ear. The Dolls 'speak' by 'whispering' in the story tellers' ears. Most children suspend belief and accept that the Dolls are dolls and therefore can't really talk. To be able to participate and contribute to the discussion children need to have in their vocabularies words that describe emotions and understand their meaning. At every opportunity story-tellers introduce alternative words when talking about a Doll's feelings.
Persona Doll story-telling sessions importantly encourage children to feel good about their own cultural and family backgrounds while at the same time respecting, valuing and learning about the cultural and family backgrounds of the rest of the group. Talking about these similarities and differences can help them understand that being different is not something to tease or harass each other about.
For example:
"Jo's feeling sad, miserable and upset".
"Sunita is jumping about with joy and excitement."
Maria is cross and fed up."
By asking appropriate open-ended questions story-tellers spark discussion and encourage children to name the Doll's feelings and empathise with her/him, listen to each other, think critically and express for their ideas. Discussing feelings, ideas and solutions is more important than finding perfect solutions to the problem the Dolls present..
For example:
'How do you think the Doll is feeling?'
What makes you angry?
Have you ever been disappointed?
How do you look when you are excited?
How do you look when you're surprised?
Harry's Story
The storytelling session began with the teacher asking the children if they remembered who was sitting on her lap. The response was immediate.
Having acknowledged their response the teacher passed Harry the Doll around the circle to give each child an opportunity to greet him individually. From the caring way they hugged and spoke to him they had obviously identified and bonded. Harry was their friend.
When asked about Harry's previous visit it was apparent from their replies that the story he had 'told' impressed them and that they empathised with him. The question, "Do you want to hear what happened to Harry at his nursery school on Friday?" was met with affirmative nods.
Harry told me that he was watching four boys building a garage with the bricks. When he tried to join in the biggest boy shouted at him
"You can't play here. We don't play with fatties."
And the others yelled, "Go way fatty, go way fatty."
At this point the teacher maximised the children's input by giving them lots of opportunities to say what Harry was feeling, empathise with him and how they felt listening to his story. By asking questions like, "How do you think that made Harry feel?" and "Have you ever felt like that?" she encouraged them to talk about their own feelings and experiences. To extend their range of feeling words she asked them if they had ever been excluded and explained what the word meant.
These were some of their responses:
  • My brother always does that to me. He says, 'No girls!'
  • Julie used to be my friend but now she's best friends with Marie and Alice and they won't play with me.
  • My sister gets really upset when children in the park tease her because she doesn't walk properly.
  • My brother and his friends say I'm too small to play with them.
  • The children who have moved into the house next door told me they can't be friends with me 'cos they never play with brown children.
  • When my sister's friend comes to our house, the two of them run and hide away from me.
  • That's not fair.

The teacher agreed that it wasn't fair to exclude children: to make them feel sad and left out. She told them that Harry said he was so upset when those boys wouldn't let him play and called him names that he burst out crying. He said the boys laughed at him and said he was a cry baby. A discussion then ensued as to whether it was ok for boys to cry. The teacher drew their attention back to the story by asking them if it happened again what did they think Harry could do?
The children were eager to help Harry. They enjoyed offering him their advice and talking about their own experiences and actions. The teacher especially supported and picked up on the contributions of the girls who had been victims and of the boys who had excluded and abused them. She hoped that thinking about how Harry was feeling and empathising with him might have helped them gain insight into their own behaviour so that it follows straight on from: and of the boys who had excluded and abused them.
She hoped that thinking about how Harry was feeling and empathising with him might have helped them gain insight into their own behaviour. 

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