Berlin, Germany

Dolls and Diversity: Fighting Prejudice with Empathy

Kinderwelten – Anti-Bias Education

May 18, 2009

The Kinderwelten program uses story-telling and role-playing to help even the youngest children adapt positively to diversity.

Racism is a learned behaviour and often, it is learned when children are very young. Children are quick to notice and mimic adult responses to people that are different from themselves in the world around them – whether these differences are physical, social or cultural.

Early childhood educators in Berlin have developed an innovative approach to cultural education for teachers and child care workers working with children as young as two years old. The Kinderwelten program uses story-telling and role-playing to help even the youngest children adapt positively to the ethnic and racial diversity that is increasingly part of their classroom and community.

The Kinderwelten program provides teachers with a wide selection of large friendly “Persona” dolls. Each dolls has a unique personality as well as characteristics that are in some way different than the group at large. Each “Persona” doll comes with its own life history that includes a family history, sibling and parent names as well as a number of stories about how they had been treated unfairly, teased or excluded because of their differences. These Persona dolls “visit” the classroom to share their stories with the youngest students. Specially trained teachers use the dolls as tool to open up a discussion about being different, the child’s feelings and responses, and most importantly, to encourage empathy for what the dolls may have experienced as a result of their unfair treatment.

The empathy based approach of the Kinderwelten program makes it unique. By deliberately seeking to cultivate and teach this trait to young students, the Kinderwelten program seeks to overcome the short term focus of other more traditional intercultural educational initiatives. For instance, while programs based around “Africa” or “Asia” week may expose children to new cultures or traditions, they do little to help children understand or relate to the actual experience of people from those cultures that may now be part of their communities.

The Kinderwelten program uses an Anti-Bias approach that originated in California and was adapted for German schools by the International Academy for Innovative Education, Psychology and Economics at the Free University in Berlin. The program was particularly popular with teachers that were looking for ways to bring diversity teaching into the classroom but in a way that would be meaningful and practical for their students.

In 2000, the program was launched as a pilot at four child care facilities in Berlin that had a high percentage of immigrant children, and was soon expanded. In 2004, the Kinderwelten program was recognised by the “Transatlantic Idea Prize” for Integration and Diversity by the Körber Foundation’s Usable program. In 2005, the “Kinderwelten” concept expanded to other cities in Germany, with Stuttgart, Hanover and Jena each opening 12 new pilot programs. The Persona Doll method is now widely used internationally, with programs available in the United Kingdom and South Africa.

In November 2007, the formal project wrapped up with a series of meetings of all regional partners and in 2008 a DVD was produced describing the work done with the experiences of the Persona doll in classrooms across Germany. Today, Berlin-based Kinderwelten has renewed funding from the German Federal Ministry for Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth and the Bernard van Leer Foundation in The Hague. For the next phase of the project (2007 – 2010), Kinderwelten is partnering with day-care centers, primary and special schools to deliver Ant-Bias education incorporating Persona Doll training in after-school programs.

For a selection of library resources related to this Good Idea, see sidebar at right.

Hier geht es zur Fallstudie auf der Seite Koerber Stiftung: Vorurteilsbewusste Arbeit in Berliner Kindertagesstätten beim Projekt »Kinderwelten«.

Making it Work for You:

  • The success of the Kinderwelten program was that it cultivated a sense of what children have in common rather than the ways in which they are different.
  • The Persona doll approach starts with the individual and his/her innate capacity to feel empathy for others.
  • This basic anti-bullying approach addresses the value of tolerance and respect for others on any number of diversity issues.
  • Kinderwelten is an idea that has travelled from California to Germany and England and beyond where it was easily adapted to meet local needs.

For this Good Idea contact:

Anke Krause, Project Coordinator
Kinderwelten Projekt des Instituts für den Situationsansatz in der Internationalen Akademie, an der Freien Universität Berlin
Schlesische Str. 3 - 4
Berlin, Germany 10997,