Best Kids' Nesting Dolls

Updated April 2020
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BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and we never accept free products from manufacturers. Read more  
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.Read more 
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Why trust BestReviews?
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and we never accept free products from manufacturers. Read more  
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and we never accept free products from manufacturers. Read more  
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.Read more 
How we decided

We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

30 Models Considered
7 Hours Researched
1 Experts Interviewed
480 Consumers Consulted
Zero products received from manufacturers.

We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

Buying guide for best nesting dolls

Last Updated April 2020

Nesting dolls, also known as matryoshka, have been around for 130 years. They became popular almost immediately upon their first release in Russia and remain so to this day. They are collectibles that can be played with, displayed, or used to store small items. They’re often used as educational toys for children, and they make excellent gifts, as their bright colors and hollow interiors have captured the imagination of millions.

There are many different matryoshka nesting dolls, with themes from movies to religion to whimsy. If you’re in the market for nesting dolls, whether for a gift or yourself, you may have a few questions. What price should you pay? What materials are best? Does it matter if you purchase a “traditional” set of dolls or a modernized set?

Selecting the right nesting dolls can be a bit a bit of a project, but we’ve done the research so you can get right to the heart of the matter. Read our informative buying guide and peruse the favorite nesting dolls we’ve highlighted to get some great ideas.

Each set of wooden dolls has to be made from the same piece of wood to meet the Sergiev Posad standard.

Key considerations

Nesting doll history

The first known set of nesting dolls was actually Japanese as opposed to the traditional Russian dolls everyone is familiar with. The seven-piece set was purchased in Japan by an unknown Russian monk who brought them back to Russia. An artist named Sergei Maliutin was intrigued by it and decided to make a Russian version.

He turned for help to Vasiliy Zveydochin, a woodcrafter, to make the wooden dolls on his lathe using soft linden wood. In 1890, the first Russian matryoshka doll set was produced: an eight-piece peasant family that included a mother and her children. The early dolls were always people — usually families or saints. Modern dolls have branched out to include a variety of other images.

The dolls were made for many years in the Russian town of Sergiev Posad, about 45 miles northeast of Moscow. It had been known for its handcrafted toys since the 1300s. Very quickly the Sergiev Posad “style” of nesting dolls became the accepted standard and has been ever since.

Types of nesting dolls

Although nesting dolls are quintessentially Russian, American manufacturers have put their own twist on them. For instance, there is a Winnie the Pooh set with Tigger, Piglet, and others. The “silly ole bear” is the largest with ears sticking up. Other westernized nesting dolls include snowmen, Santa Claus, ducks, dogs, garden gnomes, superheroes, religious figures, fairies, and dinosaurs. There are even some blank erasable white dolls that come with dry erase pens.

Age group

Young children

The original Russian nesting dolls were fairly small; that was part of their charm. The largest one in a set was typically small enough to hold in one hand. This meant the smallest one in the set was quite tiny and posed a significant choking hazard for young children.

Today, some manufacturers have taken steps to create larger dolls so even the smallest one in a set is still too big for a child to fit in their mouth. If you’re buying a set of nesting dolls for a very young child, or for a home where babies or toddlers reside, keep the size of the smaller dolls in mind as you shop.

Elementary school kids, teens, and adults

Young children aren’t the only ones who enjoy matryoshka nesting dolls. The bright colors and smooth shapes appeal to older children and adults, too. They can be used as shelf decorations or containers for holding car keys, flash drives, erasers, and other small items that are otherwise easily lost.

Collectors of all ages

Just as there are stamp collectors and book collectors, there are nesting doll collectors. In fact, collecting matryoshka dolls has become a worldwide phenomenon enjoyed by people of all ages. Some museum-quality doll sets have sold for $1,000 or more at auction. The price for specialty sets skyrockets from there.

Educational benefits

In an age of computer-related everything, you might be wondering how nesting dolls could be considered educational. Researchers have repeatedly discovered that hands-on learning is significantly more effective than computerized learning. Human biology is what it is, so why not use it to your advantage to help your children learn?

Order, numbers, and size

You can devise all kinds of “ordering” games for your children, putting the dolls in a line from largest to smallest or the reverse of that. You can play counting games that employ simple math (“If we have six dolls and I take one away, how many are left?”). You can discuss terms like height, width, and diameter during play to help teach and reinforce these concepts. Even if you don’t discuss these concepts outright during play, the hands-on experiences your child gains will form a foundation for later learning.

Motor skills

Taking the dolls apart, unstacking them, re-stacking them, and putting them back together is an excellent exercise in fine motor development. Your kids will have so much fun, they won’t even realize they’re practicing valuable skills for later life.

Vocabulary

These dolls make great visual aids for demonstrating words such as biggest, smallest, short, shortest, tallest, inside, outside, and so on. You can even expose them to foreign language words like matryoshka (pronounced mät·trē·ōsh·kä).

Storytelling

Kids love stories. Perhaps the only thing they love more than hearing stories is creating them. Nesting dolls lend themselves to all kinds of stories and make-believe play.

Memory

Since nesting dolls are hollow, you can help your children practice their memorization skills by hiding different objects inside the dolls and testing them to remember what went where. Putting candy or favorite snacks inside the dolls and then telling them they can eat whatever they correctly find will give them an incentive to remember where items are.

DID YOU KNOW?

The smallest figure in each group of nesting dolls has to be made first.

Features

Material

Traditional nesting dolls are made of wood. With a little care and maintenance, wooden dolls will last for decades. But because of rough edges and splinters, some manufacturers have turned to using plastic, particularly when the dolls are made for children. Plastic is lightweight and sturdy, but it can suffer from exposure to UV rays from the sun.

Hand-crafting

The traditional method of manufacture for nesting dolls is hand-crafting and hand-painting. Many of the toys are still made this way today, but certainly not all of them. Automation is gradually taking over; more and more of them are made by machines.

Theme

Nesting dolls always have a theme. Families and saints were the first themes used all those decades ago, but today, themes revolve around popular movie and book characters, superheroes, circus animals, and clowns. Holidays such as Christmas and Easter are also popular themes.

Number of dolls

The average number of dolls in a set is five to six. However, there are some nesting doll sets that have 10 to 20 pieces. The largest number of pieces in a nesting doll set was put on display in Osaka, Japan in 1970 at the World’s Fair. It was over three feet high and had 72 pieces in it.

DID YOU KNOW?

Nesting dolls were originally didactic toys, intended to help children learn to count and practice their hand/eye coordination.

Nesting doll prices

Low-end prices for nesting dolls start under $10 for unfinished sets you can paint yourself and cheap plastic ones with minimal artwork on them.

The medium price range for nesting dolls is from $10 to $30. These dolls will be of higher-quality plastic or wood with acceptable painting and detailing.

High-end prices on nesting dolls start at $30 and go up from there. These are made in Russia and hand-painted to exacting standards using woodburning, metallic foil, and brushes. Many are specifically made in St. Petersburg, Russia.

DID YOU KNOW?

Nesting dolls are known as matryoshka, which literally means "little matron". It is a diminutive of the Russian female name "Matryona" (Матрёна) or "Matryosha."

Other products we considered

We like the "Wild Cats" Jungle Cat Figurines from Bits and Pieces. This wooden set of five nesting dolls starts at 6 inches tall and works its way down from there. The jungle cats included are, from largest to smallest, a lion with ears, a tiger, a leopard, a panther, and a jaguar. Because they are hand-crafted and hand-painted, no two sets look exactly the same. You do have to be careful with the outermost lion, as his ears could break off.

We also like the Dinosaur Nest Dolls from Universal Specialties. These six nesting dolls are, from largest to smallest, a tyrannosaurus, a brachiosaurus, a velociraptor, a triceratops, a stegosaurus, and a pterodactyl. They range in size from 4.5 inches to 2.5 inches tall. These are plastic dolls are factory-made, so all of them should look about the same. They are less expensive than hand-made dolls.

The quality of the painting determines if a matryoshka doll is a high-end doll or not. A group of nesting dolls with fewer pieces but better painting commands a higher price than a larger group of dolls with mediocre painting.

FAQ

Q. Is the paint on these nesting dolls lead-free?
A.
Each manufacturer is different, but in order to advertise them as suitable for children, they have to be lead-free. Older nesting dolls and those made for adults or collectors may have lead in the paint.
 

Q. Are the “Made in Russia” dolls really made in Russia?
A.
Some are made in Russia, but some Russian companies have contracts with international businesses to manufacture them according to Russian specifications in the Sergiev Posad style.
 

Q. Will the paint come off over time?
A.
That depends on how hard your children play with them. Kids can destroy a metal toy truck if they put their minds to it, so they could easily break a thin wooden or plastic nesting doll.

The team that worked on this review
  • Ciera
    Ciera
    Digital Content Producer
  • Melinda
    Melinda
    Web Producer
  • Melissa
    Melissa
    Senior Editor
  • Steph
    Steph
    Writer

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