Quality learning using Persona Dolls

Persona dolls are small friends within Cathkin Community Nursery that provide a great basis for learning, being used as an integral part of an inclusive, anti-discriminatory and culturally-aware environment.

Photo of a persona doll: Reece
Liz Mercer, Head of Establishment, and Donna Derby-Hurst, Early Years Worker, tell us more about how persona dolls are used to promote citizenship, prepare children for school and enable children to learn in many different life situations.

Parents and staff worked closely to develop an understanding of the aims and purposes of the persona dolls by giving each of them their own identity including family structure, cultural background, skin colour, abilities and even likes and dislikes. When persona dolls are introduced they are well planned to confront and enhance situations such as care, fear, anticipation, vulnerability and the general ethos of the nursery environment.

Persona dolls and Curriculum for Excellence

Our aspirations for all our children are that they become successful learners, confident individuals, responsible citizens and effective contributors. Persona Dolls promote the four capacities of Curriculum for Excellence.

Successful learners

Persona dolls encourage our children to become successful learners through:

As an extension of our learning and appreciation of others we decided our Christmas Show would encompass all children around the world. We did this by wearing flag hats of our countries of origin and by wearing traditional costumes. Our families decorated banners saying ‘Joy to the World’ in their native language. Our Persona Dolls attended our show holding programmes for the audience and supporting our children in their performances.

Photo of a persona doll with bandaged arm

Confident individuals

They encourage our children to become confident individuals through:

As you can see from the picture Sammy was used in a situation of danger to encourage the children to use their assessing skills. Sammy touched a sparkler on Bonfire Night and needed a plaster on his hand. The children connect with Sammy as a friend and are very confident in their understanding of danger especially at certain times of the year. Sammy helped to reinforce this in a child-friendly way, encouraging the children to discuss their experiences and be aware of health and safety at all times.

Responsible citizens

They encourage our children to become responsible citizens through:

To assist with the transition from home to nursery for our youngest children, Persona Dolls are used as a resource to promote citizenship’s three ‘R’s: rights, responsibility and respect. The dolls encourage the children to form new relationships where they start to trust, respect and understand one another. They sit with our children at snack time and lunchtime and are visible in the playroom at all times.

Effective contributors

The encourage our children to become effective contributors through:

Photo of a group of persona dolls sitting together as part of a nursery display

Similarities and differences

We invited several parents who have been faced with their own prejudices to help transform our parents’ room into an ‘Around the World’ room – a place where learning is rich, relaxed and reinforced, and raises awareness for all. This was a great learning experience for them and continues to be of great benefit to the children and staff of the nursery.

Persona Dolls are introduced into the playrooms and have a purpose to further develop citizenship, diversity, emotional intelligence, emotional, personal and social development, collaborative working and relationship building.

Each doll is buddied up with a child from each group and staff and children take photographs of the doll taking part in activities. Their lives and experiences are discussed and many questions are asked by the children, such as: ‘Why does Sammy only live with his mum?’ ‘Why doesn’t Paul celebrate Christmas?’ ‘Why does Sanjit have brown skin?’ Staff are skilled in answering these questions, which help the children to understand and respect others in their differences and similarities.

Postcards for Reece

As each Persona Doll moves around the playrooms, staff add to their personal information to ensure consistencies in their stories. Recently Reece, one of our Persona Dolls, visited a local authority primary school, which was great for preparing the children for school and assisting with the transition process.

Whilst at the school during school assembly Reece was introduced and welcomed as a friend. As it was only two days to the beginning of the summer holidays it was suggested that the primary children send Reece a postcard from their summer holidays. Reece received several wonderful postcards at the nursery. This was an excellent example of learning being taken forward from the nursery into the primary environment.

Cathkin Community Nursery continues to use the wonderful resource of Persona Dolls to promote citizenship within the nursery. It also promotes a culturally responsive curriculum which enables all children, irrespective of origin or background, to learn in many different life situations.

'The introduction of the Persona Doll Reece generated interest from pupils in P1 through to P7 as well as being a stimulus for the development of a variety of curricular skills and the exploration of important themes around friendship and caring for others. Reece also provided a focus for the strengthening of links with Cathkin Community Nursery and further enhancing our transition programme.'

Primary headteacher


Catherine Weir,

31 March 2008, 9.30 pm

I read this article and I was impressed by the excellent work that is being implemented at nursery level. I think this gives reassurance that children of this age can learn and respect the needs and values of others. Well done to all involved with this project. Catherine Weir.

Alan McGregor,

1 April 2008, 7.57 pm

To everyone at Cathkin Community Nursery I enjoyed you acticle on Persona Dolls. What a great way to learn young children to value and respect the needs and beleifs of others.I really like your idea of buddying the dolls up with the children. There is a real sense of valuable learning going on through this project Well done keep up the good work. Alan McGregor

Marie O'Hare,

7 April 2008, 2.07 pm

As a colleague I am familiar with some of the work the Head and staff have developed with children and was very impressed by the level of involvement by parents. Persona Dolls are an excellent method of getting important messages across to children and I liked the illustrations of this,particularly Sammy's story. I thought the transition links to primary school was also a great idea. Marie O'Hare.

Angela Roxburgh,

11 April 2008, 12.38 pm

As a management team we enjoyed the article on Persona Dolls. It promoted a discussion on a culturally responsive curriculum and what that means to our establishment. Good to see Early Years Matters is continuing to have articles which not only inform but encourage reflection.

Liz Mercer,

13 April 2008, 10.21 am

I would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who has responded to this article, not only by email but by telephone. Thank you so much for your positive feedback and I hope in some way it encourages other estalishments to take this wonderful resource of persona dolls forward. I would also like to take this opportunity to thank Early Years Matters for printing this article. Thanks again to everyone! Liz Mercer

Babette Brown,

19 September 2008, 5.18 pm

Congratualtions to everyone at Cathkin Community Nursery for working so effectively with the Dolls to promote positive attitudes and behaviour. Great that parents have been so actively involved. Thanks to Early Years Matters for publishing the article and spreading the message that Persona Dolls can help to make a difference.

Diane Davis-Bailey,

7 October 2008, 1.43 pm

I am so excited to hear the positive work being done with Persona Dolls. As a Persona Doll designer that has had to publicly defend my dolls (Asim in Alva Primary in Clackmannanshire), it is encouraging that issues are constructively dealt with for the benefit of our children.

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Persona Doll Training

Organisation that provides training and resources for early years practitioners.