MINNETONKA — Kate Marston has four dolls in her kindergarten classroom at L.H. Tanglen Elementary School. She ordered them a few years ago, making sure each doll represented a different skin tone.
At the end of each year, Marston sends her dolls off to the Dress a Dolly program at the Hopkins Activity Center, where volunteers clean the dolls and make new clothes for them.
“They are beautiful what they make, they are reversible and lots of cool things and I’ve always been really happy with it,” Marston said. “This year, I did the exact same thing. I dropped off the dolls.”
When Martson got the dolls back, she was delighted to find two of the dolls were wearing hijabs.
“I think it’s important, particularly for my students who wear hijabs or whose moms wear hijabs or whose sisters wear hijabs, to see that we don’t just have to play with something that looks like the majority,” Marston said.
Two students in Marston’s class who wear hijabs were excited to find the dolls when they started school this year.
“They lit up when they saw them,” she said. “I think what’s cool is they aren’t the only ones who play with them. It sends a message to the whole class that we are welcoming and inclusive to everyone.”
“It was very reflective of her and her culture,” said Said Ali, the father of Mumtaz, one of the students in Martson's class who wears a hijab.
“She couldn’t wait to tell me and her brothers. We are very grateful, the whole community is very grateful. I tell everyone about it.” Ali continued. “Our hearts were so full.”
Marston believes it is important to show representation in her classroom, not just in her dolls but in books by authors of diverse cultures that cover diverse topics.
She has family members of students come in and share their cultures with her class. Members of the Somali, Hmong, Jewish and Scandinavian communities have all come in to share their cultures with students.
Marston will send her dolls back to the Dress a Dolly program at the end of the year, but she plans to ask them to give at least one doll a hijab and see if they can make any other cultural clothing.
Representation, even in something as small as dolls, matters, Kathlene Campbell, the dean of Education at the University of St. Thomas, told Lakeshore Weekly News.
“It really affirms their self-identity," Campbell said, "and it really allows children who aren’t in that culture into that culture.
“By age 9, children can develop viewpoints on race and ethnicity that are hard to change,” she added.
This is why representation in classrooms like Marston’s is important, not only for the students the toy or book is representing, but for the students in the majority cultures who get to learn through play, Campbell explained.
She hopes more teachers follow Marston’s lead and bring more representation into their classrooms.
L.H. Tanglen Elementary School, 10901 Hillside Lane W., in Minnetonka is part of the Hopkins School District.