Painted Peg Dolls

Why Peg Dolls?

Posted: October 02, 2020 | Updated: October 02, 2020
Created by: Ms. Sylvia

Craft-impaired teachers, like me, can reliably enjoy sharing them with their students.

Preschoolers can paint them many colors with finger paint or paint brushes.

Elementary students can paint them with more detail and can learn to sew as they make simple clothes for their peg dolls.

Older children and adults can create beautiful, elaborate designs, like the ones you might find on Etsy.

What makes these peg dolls special? What makes them a great toy when crafting time is over? Let’s explore!

Connection and customization

Peg dolls are lovely because they are so much fun to customize and can hold young children’s attention for long stretches of a day and for long stretches of childhood. Children often form deeper attachments toys they have helped create themselves, and can get more enjoyment from them, too.

A doll that looks like you-- or doesn’t

Because you are painting them yourself, you can make peg dolls that look like your family. You can also make peg dolls that look like friends or neighbors, teachers or others in the community that you know and admire. Peg dolls can also be painted to reflect the beautiful diversity of the world and, if you choose, can help you continue conversations about diversity, equality, and different cultures.

A doll made with love

You can also invite loved ones who live far away to customize a peg doll for your child -- they are light and easy to mail from place to place! This is a wonderful way to keep your child connected to far-away friends and family. During the COVID-19 pandemic we are currently experiencing, exchanging peg dolls in the mail could also be a wonderful way for your child to connect with friends.

Because peg dolls are so small, affordable, and easy to customize, it’s usually very reasonable to ask someone to decorate one for you (or for your child). For the same reasons, they are also a great gift for family, friends, and those many, many birthday parties you might go to. Peg dolls can be a wonderful way to connect as a family and as a community.

A doll for all seasons

Because peg dolls are so easily customized, it can be wonderful to make seasonal sets of peg dolls. They can be magical (fairies, gnomes, elves, trolls or other magical creatures decked in different seasonal colors and natural decorations) or natural (woodland creatures or people) or even symbolic (a solid color can be lovely and abstract). Celebrating seasons and noticing the changes that come with them are the perfect way to establish a love of nature and a scientific mindset for young children. It’s a way for all of us to connect to the natural world and wonder at how amazing it is, even when we understand the principles behind the phenomena.

A doll for all stories

A wonderful way to learn a story and to truly internalize it is to act it out. Making peg dolls to represent the characters (or having abstract peg dolls that can assume many roles) is a powerful learning and teaching tool for retelling stories, which reinforces the complex literacy skills of sequencing (putting events in order), vocabulary, and comprehension.

A doll for all purposes

One of the subtler but most valuable qualities of peg dolls is that they can be very abstract. Simply varnishing a peg doll makes it very beautiful and ready for play! Painting the dolls to match specific outfits, seasons, people, or creatures can be wonderful and very special. However, it’s also perfect to leave the dolls colorful and varnished, but neutral. This choice facilitates symbolic play for young learners.

Symbolic play is the substituting one object for another (think of when a child picks up a banana and pretends it’s a phone) and is an important part of children’s development. It allows children to process what they are learning and what they see around them through play, as well as to problem-solve, explore their own emotions, and understand relationships. When peg dolls are kept abstract in their design, it helps young children engage with them symbolically. Of course, a peg doll painted like a dog can also become a fairy or a cow or a mother or a telephone -- it’s all up to the imagination!

A doll from natural materials for a sense of beauty

Many families prefer wooden toys because they are more durable and more biodegradable than plastic ones. Peg dolls are usually made from one piece of wood (traditional ones are made from one-piece wooden clothespins) and are not varnished or painted when you purchase them, so you also entirely avoid the chemicals that can be in low-quality wooden toys, especially through toxic glues. Peg dolls are a very safe choice.

Another advantage of wooden toys is that they have natural beauty and interesting textures for children. Their simplicity is a gift. Research has found that toys, videos and games that overstimulate children have a negative effect on neurodevelopment. Peg dolls, with all their simplicity, can be a beautiful antidote to that.

A doll for unstructured play

Renowned researcher Lev Vygotsky wrote in 1967 that, “In play a child is always above his average age, above his daily behavior; in play it is as though he were a head taller than himself. As in the focus of a magnifying glass, play contains all developmental tendencies in a condensed form; in play it is as though the child were trying to jump above the level of his normal behavior”. Rudolf Steiner, founder of the Waldorf education movement, says that “If a child has been able in his play to give up his whole loving being to the world around him, he will be able, in the serious tasks of later life, to devote himself with confidence and power to the service of the world.” Maria Montessori wrote that “Play is the work of the child.” These famous statements by educational theorists have been supported by research findings. over the last century. Peg dolls are a wonderful vehicle for this kind of play. The more unstructured play time you can offer your child with simple toys like these, the better for their development.

Hand-painted peg dolls are a quick, easy, and affordable way to have a simple toy on-hand for children to enjoy long-term.

Check out our arts and crafts guide on making personalized peg dolls!