Expressive Arts & Design

When Paper Dolls meet Number Bonds

Paper dolls, or ‘cut-outs’ have been an inexpensive craft and play option for children for more nearly two centuries. They’ve inspired a lot of play since then and some great stories too.

I recently discovered that, as with many toys, it doesn’t take much imagination to build a counting activity into paper-doll play – my granddaughter Daisy added a number bond activity to a recent play session almost instinctively!

It all began when I purchased a pack of paper dolls from our local craft shop. I thought that I could have these little cut-outs ready for a crafting time with Daisy. There were lots of options: we could colour them with crayons or paint them, but I also had plenty of scraps of fabric and paper for collage. 

On a quiet morning, while Grandpa and Daddy were busy in the garden, Daisy and I sat together at her little red table. We had a cut-out figure at the ready, along with her pot of assorted colouring pens and crayons. 

I asked Daisy what she thought we should start with: should we do faces and hair? Or should we start with the clothes?

I had imagined that we would colour some of the outlines and use them to go with a story book, using the paper dolls like puppets to act out the story. 

Of course, Daisy also had her ideas for the paper dolls! She had decided that together we should colour one for each member of her family. 

Cut-outs completed

One by one, we began to add the clothes that suited each of us, ensuring that Daisy’s clothes were coloured in, to match her favourite items. 

As I carefully added the facial features and hair to my paper person, we talked about where the eyes, nose and mouth should be and what expressions to give to each cut-out. 

Daisy’s Mummy soon joined in with the colouring and between us we completed five of the paper dolls. Daisy was then ready to start her own narrative with the figures. 

Because Daddy and Grandpa were outside and three of us were indoors, she separated the cut-outs into a group of two and three: “Two boys and three girls,” she reasoned. Then she pushed the figures into a line.

My idea of storytelling with the paper dolls had been replaced not only with Daisy’s narrative but also with a helping of number bonds! That is, pairs of numbers which add up to a certain number – in this case, 2 + 3 = 5.

She separated one paper doll and decided it was “Grandpa going to the office” and told me that the remaining four family members were at home (1 + 4 = 5).

Daisy followed this by uniting all of the paper dolls for an afternoon together.

This activity grew out of a simple colouring session. These paper dolls have been added to and used regularly, allowing Daisy to explore the number of relatives she has: how many cousins are boys and how many are girls, how many aunts she has and how many uncles, and so on. 

Each time she has a different total and an opportunity to practise the number bonds for that number.

These cut-outs are readily available as neutral, male and female outlines in shops, and online.

Granny Smith says…

While it can be fun to decorate paper women and paper men, this kind of activity can be just as successful using outlines of simple figures cut from old magazines or newspapers. Instead of colouring skills, you can practise scissor skills and still enjoy the same number-bond activities.

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