Pam Guerra-Schmidt
Early Childhood Development
Material Type:
Community College / Lower Division
Creative Commons Attribution

Assignment-Using Personal Dolls for a Sensitive Topic

Assignment-Using Personal Dolls for a Sensitive Topic


An assignment for a Child Development diversity course utilizing persona dolls to discuss sensitive topics.

Child Development Course Assignment: Teaching in a Diverse Society (picture from website)

Instructors: Our college ordered two sets of persona dolls and our students check out the dolls to use for this assignment. Some students want the dolls at their educational site but do not have adequate funds, so some teachers have created their own dolls.


This assignment will give each student an opportunity to select a sensitive topic emphasizing diversity in people and share this topic utilizing a persona doll and a children’s book. Your audience for the presentation will be your adult classmates but you are writing and presenting as though children are present.

“Using Anti-Bias Education theory as a framework for identity development, appreciating differences, and understanding bias, prejudice, and stereotypes, storytelling with a personal doll creates the conditions for belonging and equity and enables people of all ages to engage fully in their relationships with each other and the work that they do in classrooms and workplaces." (Amaze website)

Supporting Materials:

"The Anti-Bias Curriculum, developed by a multi-ethnic group of early childhood educators, promotes the following goals:

  1. To nurture each child’s construction of a knowledgeable, confident self-concept and group identity.
  2. To promote each child’s comfortable, empathic interaction with people from diverse backgrounds.
  3. To foster each child’s critical thinking about bias.
  4. To cultivate each child’s ability to stand up for her/himself and for others in the face of bias” (Derman-Sparks, 2006).


Each student completes the Written Proposal on only ONE "ism", and once the proposal is approved by your instructor, the next step is to carry out the presentation with your classmates. The presentation includes reading one book connected to your topic and sharing the ism with a persona doll.

Materials needed:  

One Persona Doll: What if you do not have a Persona Doll?  Persona dolls are usually quite large, about 2 to 3 feet in height. For this course, it is okay to use a person puppet, a doll (but not a baby doll), or even a sock puppet. There is a set of persona dolls that can be checked out from our college. You are NOT required to make a purchase for this activity.  

One Children's Book: Select a book that focuses on your topic, include in your written proposal, and read during your persona doll presentation. There are children's books that you can locate online. Also, local libraries are checking out books and following health precautions during the pandemic. At my local library, I can either call or request a book online. When I arrive at the library, I call them and they bring out the book(s) and set them on a cart, so I can walk up and pick them up outside of the library. if you are needing support in finding a book, please let me know. 

Written Proposal:

Please respond to each numbered item separately while retaining the numbers and utilizing spell/grammar check.

  1. Identify and name the one ism along with giving a 1-2 sentence definition of the selected ism. To select the "ism", think about a sensitive diversity issue that might arise in a children’s classroom, and is often uncomfortable for children and teachers to discuss.  Possible sensitive topics for the "ism" include skin color/colorism; gender/genderism; race/racism; body size/sizeism; type of hair/ethnocentrism; language/linguistic discrimination, who the child lives with/ethnocentrism or familial status discrimination, accessibility/using a wheelchair/ableism, etc.

    Definition of "ism" from the book, "Anti-Bias Education for Young Children and Ourselves", page xii: ""Isms": The many forms of institutionalized prejudice and discrimination based on social identities such as ability/disability, culture/ethnicity, economic class, gender, sexual orientation, racial identity, and others. (The resultant isms are ableism, ethnocentrism, classism, sexism, racism, and the like.)"
     Please note some words end in the letters "ism" but might not be considered an "ism." If you are needing help in identifying and naming the "ism", please contact your instructor before you submit the assignment.

  2. Select a developmentally and age-appropriate book to read that focuses specifically on your topic. You can check out books free from the college library or your local library. You do not have to purchase a book for this course. Please identify the title and author of the book along with sharing a 75-word summary of the book. In addition, be very specific and identify information in the book that is directly connected to your selected "ism".

    • During the presentation, and after reading the book, have a short conversation about your sensitive topic. For example, if it is about hair type, discuss similarities and differences while noting the beauty of all hair or the beauty of a person that does not have hair. Also, a discussion of feelings about the topic would be appropriate too. This means that teachers need to model acceptance of hair and not be overly fixated by talking about how bad their own hair looks on any given day. Imagine if a child with really curly hair, constantly hears a teacher talk about disliking their curls and spending time and money to straighten their hair. While this is a personal choice of an adult, it can send very confusing messages to a child and impact the child's positive sense of self as they develop their identity.
  3. Select one Anti-Bias/Multi-Cultural Education Goal from the list of four (4) anti-bias goals from our book, The Role of Equity and Diversity in Early Childhood EducationCh. 6, 6.5: Going One Step Further with an Anti-bias Classroom, section/Curriculum; include the number of the goal and type it exactly as it is stated in our book, putting it in quotes, and give credit to our authors. After you state the goal, share specifically what you hope children and teachers will learn about the sensitive topic that you are presenting.
  4. State exactly what you might say to children about why the persona doll is attending their group time experience with the overall goal to build empathy, care, and concern for the doll's situation. All the skits need to include a persona doll that is either sad, embarrassed, or ashamed because of comments made by some of the children in the classroom. Persona dolls do not speak; so, the teacher acts out the doll pretending to whisper in the teacher's ear and then the teacher relays the information to the children. This allows for consistency in the classroom and teachers don't have to try and mimic the "voice" created by another teacher. The focus is on the teacher as the facilitator of the dolls' thoughts and the children's interactions/comments with the information being shared.

    Do not use statements such as "I will explain why he is sad." This phrase will be replaced with exactly what you will say. For example, you might say, "This is Shawn and he's been feeling sad because children have been making fun of his hair. He heard some children say that his hair feels and looks funny because he has lots and lots of really small, tight curls. He is sad and embarrassed that he asked his dad if he could stay home and not come back to preschool. My heart hurts for Shawn as I want every child to feel respected and hear kind comments about his, her, or their hair. I brought a book about hair that I'm going to read."

    The next step is to ask your open-ended questions which you will create as part of this write-up.  At the end of your presentation, share a summary of what you know about the "ism", for example, "Now we know that it is not kind or respectful to try to tell someone that he has to be the same as someone else (can include the specific "ism" here). And we know how much that hurts, don't we?" You might wait for the children's response and then thank them for being so helpful and kind to the doll.
  5. Create two open-ended questions that invite the children to respond in caring and kind ways to the persona doll/puppet as they address the specific concern with respectful and caring ideas.  These two questions need to directly address why the persona doll is feeling sad, embarrassed, and/or ashamed. One question will focus on what the persona doll can do or say when the children are being unkind. The second question will focus on what the children in the classroom can do or say when other children are being unkind to the persona doll. In the questions, include information specific to your ism.

An open-ended question does not have a right/wrong answer and cannot be answered with a yes or no. For example, what color is your eyes, has a right or wrong answer and is considered a closed-ended question. Do you want more milk can be answered with a yes or no and is closed-ended question.

When you ask an open-ended question, it provides an opportunity for children to use critical thinking skills and respond creatively? Writing the children's responses on a large piece of paper is a wonderful way to refer to the ideas later and to work on a print-rich environment.

  1. Create a “persona” and name for your persona doll. The persona is information about the puppet that the children can relate to such as name, gender, age (the ages matches the group you will be presenting to), who child lives with-be specific, race/ethnicity, culture, languages spoken, any distinguishing characteristics/abilities such as glasses, favorite food, favorite thing to play with at school, name of a friend at school, etc. Share just a few of the characteristics with the children but not too many as you don't want to overwhelm children with too much information. You do want to include the sensitive topic in the characteristics. For example, Shawn has thick, super curly, dark brown hair! Of course, if we don't have a doll with this hair type, then you need to amend this part. Let me know if you would like support with how to do this.
  2. How might you engage families with your presentation so they can continue these important conversations?
  3. Extra Credit: up to 5 points; students facilitate a practice session with your own children or children you know that are not in an educational site.  A short video of your presentation with the children is required to earn these extra credit points which means that this extra credit only works for families that are comfortable with their children being in the video. The instructor is the only person that sees the video as it is not open to the other students. You will upload this on the page where you turn in the reflection for the persona doll assignment.