Not a day goes by that my daughter doesn’t ask me to play Barbies. I have fond memories of playing Barbie as a girl, too, so there’s always something fun about reliving my childhood with her. But once the hair is brushed and the clothes are selected, our playtime typically devolves into an acting performance by yours truly with the most demanding director in the world.
“Mommy. Make them say something. Make her say, ‘Hi, Teresa.’ No, not like that. Okay. Now change her dress.”
To get my daughter more involved—and to keep me from pulling my hair out (and Barbie’s along with it)—I needed to add something more to our doll playtime to capture both our interests. If you’re stuck in the same Barbie boat, here are four ways to play dolls that don’t involve shopping, weddings, or trips to the hair salon.
Haunt the Dreamhouse.
Barbie has to live somewhere, usually in her perfectly decorated pink Dreamhouse or some variation thereof. I was growing tired of the perfect and the pink, so in a sudden flash of inspiration, I suggested turning Barbie’s home into a haunted mansion. My daughter was in before I finished the sentence.
Using basically the same decorating method that we use on our own home for Halloween, we decked out the dollhouse in Kleenex ghosts, cobwebs, and spiders. Just decorating the haunted house took up one rainy afternoon, and the fun continues as we devise different ways to scare the intrepid Barbies making their way through. Playing “hair salon” turns into creative costume making as my preschooler thinks of new ways to use Barbie’s clothes.
It might not be Life in the Dreamhouse, but our spooky house is amusing, if I do say so myself. (Yes, I’ve watched Life in the Dreamhouse. Have I mentioned this kid loves Barbie?)
Invite Barbie to get involved with science experiments.
Barbie has never been one to tie herself down to a single career. She’s been a doctor, veterinarian, politician, and even an astronaut on a mission to Mars. In that same spirit, I’ve incorporated Barbie into many of the science experiments that we do together at home.
With the help of books like Science in Seconds for Kids and articles here on GeekMom like Kristen’s fizzy science fun with baking soda, I’ve found several science-themed activities that are well-suited to both my daughter’s attention span and getting some assistance from Barbie. Typically the doll can act as an observer and “ask” questions about the experiment, but she has gotten hands-on, too. Barbie is particularly good at dumping vinegar into a baking soda volcano.
You guessed it, Barbie Live Action Role Playing.
Inspired by our recent trip to the Great Wolf Lodge to play ShadowQuest, my daughter and I crafted magic wands out of toothpicks for the Barbie Magi. My four-year-old turns herself into a tiny dungeon master, devising a quest and a list of items in our house that the dolls must hunt for. Part pretend play and part scavenger hunt, BLARPing gets my daughter’s wheels turning and adds a new dimension to playing dolls together.
As an added bonus, if I’m feeling a little down and in need of a smile, I just say “BLARPing” out loud. But not in public.
Star in a movie.
Sure, getting Barbie and Ken to go on a date to the movies is a pretty typical way to play. But how about being the movie? Once my daughter and I get the dolls settled in their chairs, we turn on music from our favorite film scores and act out the movies for our captive audience.
You might end up re-enacting scenes from Disney movies or dancing around to the music from the Fresh Beat Band, but you can also take the opportunity to show off the library of fantastic movie and game soundtracks you’ve amassed. As you can imagine, this leads to a countless number of lightsaber duels. My daughter has even watched me pretend to slay dragons from Skyrim (complete with a “FUS ROH DAH!”) as I blasted the main “Dragonborn” theme from my iPhone.
Do you have more suggestions to liven up playtime and beat the doll doldrums? Let us know in the comments below!
Kelly Knox is a mom and freelance writer in the Seattle area, where she contributes to local parenting publications. This summer she's also a guest blogger at PBS Parents' Adventures in Learning. You can find Kelly rambling about comic books, video games, and more on Twitter at @kelly_knox.