by Maree Matthews and Gerry Silk
Kiwanis International, 1994.
What are calico dolls and who makes them?
Calico dolls are simple in shape and made with plain fabric. The dolls are without features and they are plumply stuffed with polyester fibrefill, so they are lightweight. They are made in a range of skin tones. Children draw with textas or felt tip pens on plain calico giving personality and so each doll is unique. Since 1993 over 60,000 dolls have been made for children in hospital. Most of the dolls are made by volunteers and in the past Girl Guides have made calico dolls for AWCH in Sydney.
Where and how are they used?
Health professionals such as child life therapists and nurses use the dolls with role play to help children, particularly younger children who are not abstract thinkers. The dolls help prepare children for common medical procedures such as IV insertion, suturing, blood tests, insertion of naso-gastic tubes, changing dressings, manipulation and plastering of fractures under local anaesthetic and X-rays
Calico dolls have been used to help transition children to hospital and medical procedures. The play is therapeutic because it gives children permission to express themselves. The role play helps children by providing them with emotional support when they are in unfamiliar healthcare places and having unfamiliar experiences.
She coloured in the doll, giving it a happy face and a red line down its right leg which she explained as “the dolly’s sore leg”.
The dolls are also known as trauma dolls and can provide a positive way of coping, reducing stress and trauma. Children become empowered because through doll play they know more about what will happen to them and they can express themselves. Through parallel play they can tell family, friends and health professionals about what is happening to them and how they feel. How the doll is used is up to each child, their personality and developmental stage. Some children will focus on the doll as a means of gathering information and other children will use the doll as a tool for self-expression as well as understanding.
Calico dolls : a process of play is a great book for introducing health professionals and students to the value of calico dolls and their uses. Vignettes illustrate some of the uses, such as for diversion from pain, discomfort, anxiety and boredom. Other uses are for expression of feelings, as preparation for painful procedures, when working with siblings, for children who do not speak English, in bereavement care and for parent involvement. The book also explains how health professionals can make doll play a successful experience as well as how to talk to children in health care settings.
Calico dolls: a process of play is available for loan from the AWCH Library. The AWCH office also has a doll pattern for people who would like to make one.