The Trouble With Toys

Lately I have been thinking about toys. Our childhood spaces are filled with toys, and we continually receive catalogues imploring us to buy more toys. Toys are ubiquitous in our business, but do we pay attention to them? Do we think about the corporate influence and marketization of toys?Screen Shot 2013-10-18 at 4.31.54 PM

Screen Shot 2013-10-18 at 4.26.20 PMConsider the big box stores, the ‘pink’ isle filled with dolls and tea sets, and the ‘black’ isle filled with action figures and remote control vehicles. There is an isle for babies, an isle for toddlers, a ‘learning’ isle, a ‘outdoor isle’ and an ‘arts isle’…..and more.  All these categories of toys sends three very strong messages:

  • Each activity a child engages in requires a different kind of toy
  • Boys and girls require different kinds of toys
  • Children of different ages require different kinds of toys

Do we believe this?

An educator in a multi age drop in centre was considering toys, particularly baby toys. She saw adults directing babies and toddlers to the ‘baby toys’ steering them away from the ‘preschool toys’. So she did an experiment: she removed the baby toys and in their place put an overhead projector. And voila! The overhead projector became a baby toy.

 What do you believe about toys?

About Kim

Kim is an admitted ECE geek. She and Danielle have bonded over their shared geekdom and have come to terms with it. She is a pedagogical facilitator working with educators in a number of early learning settings supporting and extending new thinking and practice. She loves reading, writing, talking and sharing ideas about the potentials of teaching and learning with ece's and young children. ECE geeks unite!

4 thoughts on “The Trouble With Toys

  1. I too am an ECE geek and wear the title with pride! I love what I do and spend a lot of time thinking about the materials and toys we offer young children. I talk with my daughter about why I think certain toys are “good” or “bad” and explain (even if she is too long to think beyond her desire to own lots of pink, pretty things) the differences. Young children’s imaginiations are too rich and powerful and I hate to see toy manufacturers insulting them with their messages and specific use kinds of toys. Need a cell phone? Make one out of a box! I don’t want to head down the “when I was younger…” path (well, yes I do, but I won’t!)but I think children aren’t as encouraged to use their imaginations today as they were years ago. And maybe it’s that there are just so many MORE choices available now, but the toys seem much more gender separated. I would love to see a big box store mix things up and stock the shelves by categories (Barbie camper next to big trucks)

    Thanks for your post

    1. Thanks for your thoughts Catherine, we love to hear from fellow geeks! I agree, we could use more boxes and fewer “toys.” I think as ECE’s we can pay attention to this and begin shifting what we provide as ‘toys’ in our child care spaces. Have you made any changes?


  2. Your comment, starting “Consider the big box stores…” and noting how they are fashioned into specific aisles by gender, age groups, art, outdoors, and ‘learning'(so, does that mean that the ‘toys’ in the other aisles do not provoke investigating and learning?), got me considering traditional preschools/childcare centres and how they are also divided by age groupings. Even B.C.’s early childhood college programs have divided course work this way and licenses to practice are sliced into infants and toddlers, 3-5, special needs. Like the toy stores you write about, traditional centres arrange their layouts similarly. They are not necessarily arranged into aisles but instead into “areas” or “centres” -the house centre, the science area, the art area, the circle area, the block area, even the math centre as designated by the sign on the wall above a table in one preschool I have seen. And how often do educators re-direct children back to the designated centre with toys that they moved with out of it -this makes me think about the imbalance of power between adults (parents, educators, business people, corporations etc) and children. I think about the power of educators at play in shaping children’s engagement with and exploration of materials and our responsibility to reflect on the materials we choose and why, and the rules we create about where and how they can be used in the centre. I think about the power that the design/layout of the big box toy store (and the preschool, childcare centre) has on the consumers (adults and children) and who buys what, who gets given what, who is “allowed” to play with what and why, who is denied playing with what and why. Might a consumer not buy a boy a doll because it is in the aisle with the pink backdrop in a society in which we have cultured (encultured?) pink to be a “girl’s colour”? Might a girl who wants the experience of playing with a remote control car decide when she gets to the store that she doesn’t want it after all when she sees it in the “boys’ toys” aisle? I am left with many more questions two of which are: What power/impact does the store, the marketers of the toy, and the aisle it is placed in for sale have on the adults and children once it leaves the store and ends up in the children’s homes, preschools and childcare centres? I also wonder if the inventor of the overhead projector ever would have thought of it being a toy, let alone a toy used by children, including children named as babies in our culture?

  3. Lynne, you have brought up so many interesting points and opened up new areas of discussion! I too wonder about the division of playing and learning into specific and narrow categories, and about the power of toy companies and toy stores to determine/dictate who can play with what and when. And your comments that extend this thinking to how our child care spaces are set up deserves much more dialogue. Thanks for taking my thoughts and bringing more complexity!

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