Anger as Anita introduces her two mums to nursery classes

4th June 2004 at 01:00
Anita is three years old. She likes watching cartoons, playing with her toys and running with her pet dog. She lives in a big house with her two mummies. And, after circle time, Anita will be shut up in a cupboard until the following week.

Anita is a persona doll, designed to help explain unusual family circumstances to pre-school children. Babette Brown, who brought the dolls to Britain from the United States, said: "It's a way of offering support to children who are facing bullying and other forms of harassment. And some children are bullied because their parents are lesbian or gay."

Last month, the right-wing Parent Truth Campaign picketed a training day run by Ms Brown in Glasgow, claiming that the use of "gay dolls" was "indoctrination worthy of Sparta or communist China".

But Ms Brown dismissed the accusations. She said: "There is no such thing as 'gay dolls'. The dolls have no sexuality, because they are children.

I've never heard of a three-year-old lesbian."

Nursery teachers recommend that the dolls' lives mirror those of pupils as closely as possible. Vicki Hutchin, educational consultant for the south London borough of Merton, said: "You create a persona similar to the real-life situation of the children. You think of all the likely things a three-year-old would be doing, but with one or two differences, such as having two mummies."

Marilyn Bowles, a foundation-stage teacher at Willowbrook primary, in Leicester, insists that it is vital to research the doll's family background thoroughly.

"The happiest situation for me would be if a gay family enrols their child in the school," she said. "Then we could discuss it with them. I don't want to stereotype or be tokenistic."

But she does not worry that children will find it difficult to adjust to a doll's unfamiliar background: "They take it in their stride. The nuclear family, with mum, dad and two kids is a thing of the past.

"It's more likely that it will cause controversy among parents. But tackling racism in an all-white school also causes controversy. I'm not afraid."

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