Toys provide children with tools for imaginatively acting out their future participation in the world. They can help children understand and engage in society, and expand beyond the isolation of their family homes to encounter cultures different from their own.
An article in The New York Times Parenting newsletter calls upon parents to consider how well their children’s toys and books provide a reflection of what so many of us hope will be a new perspective on issues like race, gender, religion, ethnicity, socio-economic status, sexual orientation, and more. 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.
Toy companies can readily change the complexion of dolls, but children need actual insights into the lives of those whose race and ethnicity are unlike their own.* Books can portray lives in different geographic regions of the world with different cultural and family living circumstances and offer windows to the larger world. They offer families a focal point to come together for reflection. They can provide opportunities for adults and children to share what they believe to be true and whether that personal truth fails to comport with the realities in others’ cultures. Resulting discussions invite the sharing of adults’ and children’s candid confusions and wonderment over the life patterns of those unlike themselves.
Creating a bookshelf of nonfiction books, as well as the fanciful worlds available through stories that represent the actual world, is a laudable parenting goal. Each book can offer an opportunity, not to intrude on imaginative play, but to enhance play with “tools” that invite children to reflect upon their own uniqueness, and the contributive strengths and the social potentials of those unlike themselves.
The natural surprises about how each of our lives can be so different from book characters’ can nurture 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 Matiell.