Did you play with paper dolls when you were a kid? This printable emotion paper doll operates on the same principle: only instead of dresses, she changes poses and expressions to convey a wide array of emotions that teach children to successfully read other people’s body language.
When I was a kid, I used to like playing with paper dolls. Now that I’m a mother and an educator, I rediscovered the pleasure of playing with them again. A paper doll is a fun and simple tool for teaching kids about a variety of subjects. These dolls can teach about history, geography, and books through their different costumes. But this particular doll does’t actually have an extensive wardrobe; instead, it changes expressions and delves into the subject of emotions.
The idea of this doll came to me when I was looking for games that would help me in talking about emotions to my kids. When my son was four, he started to care about how other people feel. “Are you angry, mommy?” he would ask sometimes. “No, why?” “Your mouth was like this… You weren’t smiling!” “I’m just a little tired.” He had enough empathy to care, but not quite enough experience to either identify the body language or know how to react. And when he was trying to describe how he felt, he also couldn’t always find the right words. A lot of kids of that age find it tricky, and even for adults the subject of emotions can sometimes be challenging.
That’s how the doll came into existence – it was designed to discuss our emotions in a manner that would be accessible to children. In addition, the doll can be a storytelling prompt, a fun paper companion or a simple bring-alone craft for occupying children in waiting rooms, at restaurants, etc. After all, everything you need comes on a few pieces of paper and includes:
- a doll with her 14 expressions
- a sheet of blank expressions for kids to draw their own
- a sheet with poses and costumes
- emotion cards
Benefits of Emotion Paper Dolls
If you played with dress-up paper dolls while growing up, you probably remember how much fun it was! From the adult’s perspective, we can also see how useful this activity can be for a child’s development. Here are a few important skills that making paper dolls and playing with them can encourage:
- Fine motor skills. Think scissor cutting practice! Operating all the tabs is a useful challenge, as well. Truth be told, tabs may turn out too challenging for younger children. If so, you can make magnetic dolls instead. I’ll explain how they can be made below.
- Creativity and art skills. Because who wouldn’t want to make some additional costumes for the dolls? My son even created his own dolls after playing with these ones. The emotion dolls come with blank face templates as well, so children can draw new faces.
- Storytelling and social skills. The expressions of these paper dolls prompt kids to make a story or two! Start by asking questions, “How does she look now? What is she feeling? Which of her features makes you think so?” To engage in a further discussion, you can ask questions, “What do you think happened to her? What would you say to her in this situation?”
The emotion paper doll is designed to work for all of the above, but its main purpose is still to teach children about reading the emotions and body language of their peers, helping them with developing social and emotional intelligence. The emotion paper doll has only three costumes, but she comes with five poses and fourteen expression. There is a lot of fun to be had with these paper dolls!
With this pack, you can make either a classic paper doll with new layers attaching by paper tabs or a magnetic doll to go on a fridge or magnetic board. Personally, we prefer the magnetic dolls. My kids just love everything magnetic, and it’s easier for little hands to manipulate magnetic pieces.
In order to make the doll magnetic, you can either print it on special magnetic sheets or print it on standard paper and adhere little strips of magnet tape on the back. I did a combination of the two – they both work!
Reading Body Language
Begin with facial expressions and discuss what emotions they are trying to convey.
Once you go through a few different facial expressions and discuss what emotions they convey, start adding body language.
Ask the child, “Does she look different now?”
You will notice that certain body language intensifies certain emotions. Hands on hips make a happy expression really happy, and it also makes anger really apparent. On the other hand, it doesn’t work well with other facial expressions, like the one expressing embarrassment and shyness. That’s because hands on hips usually express confidence. Overall though, the body positions just supplement and accentuate the facial expressions.
Each facial expression comes with a card describing the signs of different emotions. You can use the cards in a variety of ways:
- for reference – to identify the signs that make a face express a particular emotion
- for matching with corresponding faces – you can even set up a memory game!
- as a challenge card – make the doll look sad by finding the face that shows all the signs of sadness and adding the body that has arms wrapped around itself
Your Children’s Emotions
The doll can also be used for talking children through their own emotions. Keep it handy and ask when necessary, “Can you find the face that expresses how you’re feeling?” That can be when you see them struggling with emotions or simply at the end/beginning of the day, as a little ritual.
If possible, you can create a special place for the doll on a fridge or a magnet board with the words, “This is how I’m feeling”. Being aware of their emotions is an important step for children in learning self-regulation and emotional intelligence.
And if they want to add their own emotions, there is a sheet with blank face templates to draw on. My kids loved them!
The pack is a 14-page PDF file. Inside, you will find the two kinds of templates for making the doll (magnetic and with tabs), face expressions, including blank ones to make your own, costumes, and emotion identification cards. You will also find more suggestions for how you can use the doll included in the booklet.
Thanks for reading!