I recently read an article in The New York Times Parenting newsletter. It called upon parents to consider how well their children’s toys provide a reflection of what so many of us hope will be a new perspective on race in the world. Toys provide children with tools for imaginatively acting out their future participation in the world; children use them for learning to understand and engage in society.
Many children’s worlds can be isolated from what they will encounter outside of the home. This summer, that reality has lurched toward evolving from the “it’s everywhere if we just choose to see it” racism present in every country and culture. The Black Lives Matter movement has awakened many, not just to the institutionalized plight of those of African ancestry, but to the impacts of such “othering” practices on every form of diversity across humanity: race, gender, religion, ethnicity, socio-economic status, sexual orientation, and more.
Toy companies can readily change the complexion of dolls, but children need actual insights into the lives of those whose cultures are unlike their own.* Creating a bookshelf of nonfiction books, as well as the imaginative and fanciful worlds available through stories that fully represent the actual world, is a laudable parenting goal. Each book then offers an opportunity, not to intrude on imaginative play, but to enhance that play with “tools” that invite children to reflect upon their own uniqueness and the contributive strengths and the social potentials of those unlike them.
In the NYT Parenting article, the author shares how she considers every toy or book choice as an opportunity to add to her child’s potential paths to joyful success in the real world, suggesting a positive goal for every parent when adding to their children’s bookshelves.
Books can be included in young children’s toy collections and they can learn to incorporate them into their play. Books offer families a focal point to come together for sharing and reflection. And good books portray lives in different geographic, cultural and family living circumstances, and offer windows to the larger world. They provide opportunities for adults and children to share what they already believe to be true and whether that personal truth fails to comport with the realities in other’s cultures. The resulting discussion invites the sharing of adults’ and children’s candid confusions and wonderment over the strange and confusing life patterns of those unlike themselves.
This is where the natural surprises about how each of our lives can be so different from book characters’, which can become the focus of the growth and maturation of readers–young and old alike.
*For more about this topic, read Positively Different: Creating a Bias-Free Environment for Young Children by Ana Consuelo Matiella.