Resourceful Young Children

Resourceful Young Children
Learning Brief

Persona Doll Training South Africa

Doll play: Strengthening the citizenship skills of ECD practitioners

Category: Resourceful Young Children | Comprehensive ECD package | 28 June, 2014 - 18:00


Information about the Persona Doll training programme

The Persona Doll training programme is uniquely aimed at strengthening the psychosocial and citizenship skills of Early Childhood Development (ECD) practitioners. The focus is to train and support adult ECD practitioners, including social workers, home visitors and their trainers to be able to deal with issues of poverty, protection, violence and abuse, racism, and stigma in their own lives and with young children. The training aims to develop core emotional and citizenship skills. This entails encouraging empathy and communication, instilling a respect for inclusion, building a value of respectful relationships, and unlearning prejudice and discriminatory attitudes.  We call this “building citizenship”.

How the Persona Doll approach builds citizenship and fosters inclusion

Our approach is to train adults, who in turn, encourage children to talk, listen and question. This approach helps individuals build their social, emotional and key cognitive skills. To accomplish our objectives we use large, life-like cloth Persona Dolls as non-threatening, empathy-stimulating tools. This tool is built into our adult training methodology and serves as a powerful way in which practitioners capture children’s and family’s interest in order to promote dialogue about empathy and active citizenship.

Why are citizenship values important? When individuals have a sense of citizenship they feel as if they “belong”. When people in a community have a sense of belonging they can learn how to establish a rights-based culture together. A rights-based culture is infused with an ethos of respect and tolerance for others who are different; democratic participation; inclusiveness; and justice and equality. This is consistent with the activist problem solving approach, which is core to the Persona Doll strategy.

Why are values of inclusivity important? Inclusive practice is a key aspect of good citizenship education. It involves promoting the all-round development of ALL children, including the most marginalised, and ensures that they and their families feel included, valued, motivated and empowered. Children are unlikely to feel good about themselves if they are excluded, ridiculed and physically, verbally or emotionally abused because of their skin colour, religion, disability, ethnicity or economic position. They are also unlikely to learn well under these conditions. Instead, if children are taught to see others as special, and to appreciate similarities and differences, they are less likely to be hurtful and teasing bullies. Encouraging them to learn about and value each other’s cultures, languages, abilities and life-styles will enable them to draw strength from, and value their own culture and sense of identity.

Our programme’s literacy and cognitive focus

Our group programmes are designed to help individuals grow in their confidence to share thoughts and ideas, to speak out, to be independent, and to collaborate with others to work towards a common goal. These are individual as well as civic skills. The groups work with the dolls and we craft scenarios/stories where the dolls are the main characters and the group needs to help the doll with a particular challenge. The Persona Doll pproach enables adults and children to develop six specific literary and cognitive skills.

  1. Cognitive capacity: Contextually relevant stories/scenarios of known and unknown real life situations help to stretch the children’s’ cognitive imagination.
  2. General vocabulary: We focus on advancing an emotional vocabulary to help improve communication. This means learning in an experiential way so as to build an understanding of the meaning of words.
  3. Mother tongue language: We encourage the advancement of mother tongue language in order to build meaningful conceptual understanding.
  4. Reading and drawing:  Children use the dolls to craft scenarios where they have problems. Then collectively the children help each other to read, write or draw a solution to help the doll.
  5. Skills in technology: We help develop the use of cell phone and computer skills to improve communication.
  6. Comprehension: We provide general support to help build individual capacity to listen, understand meaning, and critically respond to scenarios with practical solutions.

Our programme as a social enterprise

In addition to our training programme, Persona Doll has also started two rural income generation doll-making groups in the Western Cape and Free State provinces. These doll-making groups provide employment for 16 women. An important programme component is to develop skills and create employment for the women who sew Persona dolls. This forms a valuable part of our social enterprise strategy for sustainability.

Monitoring, evaluation and research

A final critical aspect of our programme includes laying down a solid monitoring and evaluation framework so that we can track our successes. The staff members use questionnaires to collect baseline data from all partner organisations during initial training. They gather participant feedback at each of the follow up support sessions. They also write up mentoring and training reports. We collate this data and use it to track the programme implementation and for future strategic planning.

Furthermore, we conduct independent research and hire external evaluators to examine the impact and ‘change’ of the Persona Doll Training programme on the ECD practitioners and the organisations.


In this learning brief we have introduced the use of Persona Dolls as a unique mechanism to help teach psychosocial and citizenship skills to ECD practitioners. We highlight why these skills are important for fostering a tolerant, inclusive society that welcomes all kinds of people. Finally provided a brief discussion about how we incorporate the training programme with a social enterprise that generates employment for previously underprivileged women.

Persona Doll Training South Africa

1st Floor, 134 Main Road Wynberg Cape Town Western Cape South Africa

 (021) 762 1116

In Short

This brief showcases the how the unique use of Persona Dolls can foster citizenship values of inclusivity and tolerance amongst ECD practitioners and the children they teach.

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