In the library world, staff talk a lot about the importance of “doors and mirrors” in children’s literature. Books that provide “doors” allow children to step into a world or circumstance they do not have experience with in their daily lives. “Mirrors” allow children to see themselves reflected in the books they read, affirming their identity and place in the world. Both of these experiences are important for children’s development. Toys are very much the same.
Play, with or without toys, is an important way children learn about the world around them. It allows them to use their creativity and develops their imagination, as well as physical, cognitive, and emotional strength. For children who may not see themselves represented as often in toys and media, it can be powerful to have a toy that speaks to their identity. Diversifying a toy box can help any child learn about the diversity of their community and world. It helps prepare children to encounter other kids and adults who do not look like them or their families and supports their awareness of different skin tones and hair types.
YDL staff have been thoughtful and intentional in ensuring that the Play Kits families can check out, and the toys in our library play spaces, provide doors and mirrors for kids, just like our books. We value diversity of authorship for the books in the kits, as well as diversity in the toys we choose.
Today it is easier than ever to find toys that physically represent a wide range of human experience, from skin color to differences in mobility. Below you will find some of the resources and companies we use when choosing toys for kits and play spaces.
The Black Toy Store
Providing “hand-picked, curated collections of children’s toys, games, books, and gifts that reflect the beauty and diversity of the African diaspora.”
Little Likes Kids
This line provides games and puzzles for kids birth to six years old.
A family business started when a mom wanted to insert more diversity and celebration of her Indian culture into her daughter’s and niece’s lives and toy boxes.
My Family Builders
The creator wanted a toy that could be used to build families with a range of skin tones. My Family Builders came out of that project.
Teni and Tayo Creations
Founded by a mom, they “make toys, books, classes, and more for kids with a pinch of African influence. It could be as simple as an African proverb in your toy box or a lesson about African geography in your activity book. Whatever it is, we are excited to share a piece of Africa with you.”
Focus On Dolls
Creatable World (Mattel)
Customizable dolls that encourage children of all genders to play with dolls. These dolls start out as a figure with no hair. Children can choose from dolls six skin tones. Then they choose hair that is long or short, and in a number of textures and styles. Lastly they can choose from a number of clothing options that represent a range of gender expression.
The Fresh Dolls
Both fashion and baby dolls that come in a range of skin tones and hair textures.
Their Zoe doll has washable hair that can be styled and was created to mimic natural Black hair.
Dolls inspired by, and designed to inspire, kids. Some of these dolls are based on real children who are working to make the world better, like the Mari Copeny doll. Others are designed to promote interests like invention, journalism, and environmentalism.
Their dolls, called “Buddies” to appeal to boys who don’t like the idea of playing with a doll, are designed to combine the adventure of an action figure with the emotional connection of a favorite stuffed animal.
There are also ways to promote diversity in play through creative activities you do with your little ones. Simply having crayons that represent different skin tones, or coloring books that show many types of people, can support your child’s developing world view. Any child should be comfortable playing with dolls or with trucks, or learning to cook and repair items. While playing with your child, make it a point to express interest in other cultures and languages. Try learning a few new words in another language by using them while you play. Learning signs (from American Sign Language or International Sign Language) can also help children learn about other ways people communicate.
As always, talking with children about how their experiences of the world differ from others’ experiences is the most powerful way to help them learn about and celebrate our diverse world. Toys and books can be great tools to help start or illustrate these conversations with your child.
Learn more about our Play Kits at https://www.ypsilibrary.org/kits/