Persona dolls originated in the 1950s in response to a lack of classroom resources that reflected the diversity of a growing multiethnic society. Developed in the United States, Persona dolls are now used across the world to combat discrimination, promote equality and develop children's emotional literacy. Teachers and children attribute personalities and characteristics to the dolls that range in size, shape, ethnicity and gender. Persona dolls are often used with social stories -- simple stories that describe actions, feelings or situations to teach positive behaviour and social skills.
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Purchase or create Persona dolls to use as a part of a classroom schedule, during daily story time or weekly classroom meetings. Persona dolls should represent diversity in their design. Educators should be mindful that Persona dolls are not designed to be toys, and should be stored in a special place in the classroom.
Write a simple social story, relevant to the age and ability level of the children. The story can be related to a specific theme that may have arisen in the classroom, such as an incident of bullying. Write the story from the child's perspective, describing the situation from her point of view.
Describe the thoughts and feelings of the child throughout the story to model emotionally literate behaviour and develop awareness. The character may experience a range of emotions and corresponding actions, depending on the length of the story.
End the story positively, describing how the character displayed appropriate behaviour in the situation. The aim of the social story is to promote similar actions in children and develop empathy for others.
Find an appropriate Persona doll for the character in the story and attribute characteristics to the doll, such as a name, age, likes and dislikes, etc. This will help children to build a connection to the doll, and therefore the character in the story. The teacher should introduce the children to the doll before telling the story.
Use the Persona doll to tell the social story, speaking through the doll in a first person tense. Additional dolls can be used to show interactions between characters. Children can ask questions to the dolls or offer ideas and opinions, and the story can be left open-ended as a writing prompt exercise for children to consider what they feel the character should do.
Tips and warnings
- Use a range of Persona dolls on a regular basis to highlight the experiences of people of diverse ethnicity, religion and culture.
- Create new social stories in response to situations as they arise, such as classroom conflict, new children entering or leaving the school, or to help children understand wider social events they may have heard about.
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