Paper Doll Houses

The box on the left is Bella’s doll house. The one on the right is the grocery store she made later, complete with food pictures cut from seed catalogs. I suppose it’s properly a greengrocers.

So a while back we read two of Rumer Godden’s dolls books, Miss Happiness and Miss Flower and Little Plum, about a little girl named Nona who moved from India to live with cousins in England after her mother dies. Nona and her cousins receive a gift of two Japanese dolls from a great aunt and Nona embarks on a project to build them a proper Japanese doll’s house. In order to get it right, Nona befriends a bookseller and borrows piles of books about Japanese culture and architecture and art, a perfect example of child-led learning.  She learns about futons and haiku and kimonos and manual skills like woodworking and sewing and painting and gardening.


I might have thought it would lead to an interest in Japan and Japanese culture but instead it led to a fascination with making dolls houses. Bella embarked on a project of turning a cardboard diaper box that she appropriated into a house for paper dolls. She spent days coloring it inside and out and then created furnishings and then made dolls to go with it. She’s been playing with it for months and is constantly adding new things, crafting new dolls, using it in new and surprising ways.  And sharing it with her little sister. Recently the two of them made a grocery store out of a second box, stocking the shelves with pictures of food cut out from seed catalogs and with other things drawn by Bella. Inspired by Betsy and Tacy’s paper dolls cut from catalogs, they have cut out paper dolls from a Dharma Trading Post catalog I had laying around. I have seen them fashion furniture out of blocks, make backyards and additional rooms and structures out of blocks, and even incorporate Ben and his cars and trucks into the doll’s house play.

Today Bella decided to make Sophie her own doll’s house since Sophie is constantly wanting to use Bella’s and it has led to some friction and conflicts. I heard her telling Sophie that “It takes a long time to make a doll’s house. At least a week.” I am impressed with Bella’s ability to focus so intently on a task for so long and with some of the problem solving she has done. And with her generosity and cooperative spirit, making dolls for Sophie and giving her turns with the house and grocery store.

Charlotte Mason advocates teaching children handcrafts—but not busy work. She says they should be involved in making useful things. I am gratified to see that when she isn’t doing projects in order to master a new skill like drawing a particular thing she wants to learn how to draw, Bella almost always turns her crafting to things she can use herself or things she can give to others.



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  • Now I want to read Stratford Caldecott’s book, and – drat – it’s not in the library system.

    He and his wife were acquaintances when I was in my late twenties.  They were intellectual enough to intimidate me, but very kind.  I still have some bath toys they gave me when they moved back to England in the stash of things I hope my grandchildren will use.

  • re Caldecott:

    I was super excited when I first heard of the Caldecott book and read the sample pages on Amazon. Right now, however, I’m a bit stalled out. Maybe it’s just that he starts off rather broad, stating things I think are rather obvious. Probably it’s really a very particular personal issue because I get very excited by new ideas but seeing things I already agree with rehashed by someone knew doesn’t have the same thrill. So far the book seems to be a decent synthesis but not very original. However, I’m only in the very first chapter.

    I do think I picked up the Caldecott on the tail end of my non-fiction binge and also right after the Holt, which was new and exciting. Then I got distracted by all the new novels and seem to be on more of a fiction kick right now. So I’m going to really hold off on serious discussion on that particular book until I’ve really given it a fair shake and am not coming at it in a way that’s not fair to the book.

    But by all means I welcome comments from anyone who has read it. That might in fact be enough to goad me into picking it back up.

    scotch meg,

    hearing that you know the Caldecott’s personally makes me actually much more eager to dive back in. I do think that he seems like the kind of person I’d love to chat with in person.

  • Sharon,

    Most articles I’ve seen on the topic of homeschoolers proceeding to university have suggested that in fact they tend to make the transition quite easily and that on average they have higher grades and higher graduation rates than students from traditional schools.
    In fact, I have seen it stated in many places that colleges and universities have begun to prefer homeschooled candidates in general.

    However, in this context it’s impossible to find articles that make a clear distinction between students homeschooled in primary grades but not in secondary and those who are homeschooled through the secondary level. They seem to be referring to the second group rather than to all homeschoolers; but the problem is that there really aren’t two distinct groups.  Many homeschooled students will do some part of their high school through a traditional school or through a distance-learning program which will given them a diploma and transcript that looks like they went to school. And many homeschoolers begin to take classes for college credit at local colleges before they graduate. And many homeschools will be technically designated as private academies because of state regulations. In California, I believe, all homeschoolers are technically enrolled in private schools because of the way the laws are written. So it can be hard to even determine how many students are homeschooled or how to determine who is homeschooled and who is not. The categories are fluid and there isn’t a lot of solid data. 

    Here’s a few things I’ve found:

  • Homeschooling isn’t all that common in Australia so I know little about it.  One criticism I have read is that the child who is homeschooled until the end of secondary school can be ill-prepared for tertiary education. Would you agree with this and do you know what proportion of home-schoolers go on to tertiary education? 

    The home-schooled children of Leila Lawler have all, except for the youngest who is still being home-schooled, gone on to tertiary education so it is possible.

  • Actually, anecdotally speaking, my son, whom I homeschooled all the way through, is in college and doing excellently.

    The research that is being done on homeschooled teens vs traditionally schooled teens shows—across the board—that the homeschooled teens (just like their younger homeschooled counterparts) are doing better, academically, than traditionally schooled children.

    There are many good books being written on the subject of homeschooling through high school … Actually, the Colfax’s wrote on the subject of homeschooling their sons’ into Ivy League schools many many years ago now.

  • Melanie and Ellie, thank you for your very useful information re home-schooling; it will give me some ammo when I hear some criticism of homeschooling.

  • What a coincidence. I came here from Jamie’s blog (Light and Momentary) and I just happen to be reading the first part of Rumer Godden’s autobiography, “A Time to Dance, No Time to Weep,” which I picked up at a school book sale because I loved The Greengage Summer so much as a teenager. I think reading her complete works is a lovely aim.

  • Maud, Thanks for dropping by. I really enjoyed “A Time to Dance” when I read it.

    As for reading her complete works, it’s probably a lifetime project given how hard it can be to find some of her titles—and because I tend to only buy books when I get a gift certificate because once I start it’s impossible to stop. But maybe that’s a good thing. Instead of glutting myself on a Godden buffet, I’m forced to slow down and savor each one as I find it.