Vese Aghoghovbia-Aladewolu, founder of Philly & Friends and children’s book author, explains how to make sure your child’s toys and books are diverse and well-represented.
Let’s talk representation, but before we do, let’s take a moment to ask ourselves – are we teaching our children to love truly? One might wonder what representation has to do with love. However, if we dig deeper, we uncover one of the truths about love – we are only able to love what we understand, and can only understand what we are exposed to.
People often think talks about representation are reserved for the underrepresented. However, I believe the fight for ‘representation’ is for the betterment of us all. We all benefit from seeing a full picture of what the world looks like. When we teach and expose our children to other worlds and possibilities, they learn to make room for all.
Neuroplasticity suggests our brains take shape and form connections based on our learning experiences. Research says, as early as age two, a child starts reasoning based on race, by two and a half, begins to choose playmates based on racial identification and forms racial prejudice by five.
We gravitate naturally towards what we know and can identify with. This is why introducing diversity to our homes, particularly the playroom, is so important. It plays a significant role in the fight for acceptance. By ensuring our children’s toy box and bookshelf are diverse, we are teaching them to love genuinely, to understand differences and embrace diversity. Children need to see themselves and others represented in the books they read, the toys they play with and the media they consume. Positive representation helps children grow up with a secure self-image, appreciating themselves as they are and learning to respect others.
So, what books, toys and media are our kids being exposed to? How representative are they of varying cultures? Before you get started, I’ll encourage you to check your unconscious bias, the way you speak about others in front of your kids – the change begins with us.
Next, declutter. We’ve all been there, bought something on a whim and then realised it no longer aligns with
our principles. Next, take stock. Go through your books, toys and favourite TV shows, categorise. On a scale of 1 to 10, how diverse are they? Once you know where you stand, these are five simple but effective ways to ensure your child’s toys are well represented.
– Books are a powerful way to introduce kids to different cultures, races and experiences. Does your child’s library display a sea of colours, concepts, abilities? Do you have a mix of books with male and female lead characters? Books with girl characters aren’t just for girls; they are for boys too. What about characters with physical challenges?
– Dolls are an excellent way to teach empathy; they provide a physical representation of diversity. Brands like Rosa & Bo create dolls with varying skin tones – they have a multi-tone nesting babies set. If children can touch, care for and play with a diverse range of dolls, they will build kindness and acceptance. It’s also a great way for children to role-play and learn positive awareness and inclusion towards different races and individuals with physical challenges.
– Board and card games are a great way to improve concentration and attention span, fine motor skills and problem-solving skills while introducing the concept of diversity. Kids like to replay board and card games over again, improving their memory. Games such as Super Sapien introduce different cultures and role models.
– What shows do they watch? Are they as representative as possible? How are different cultures being represented? Children form a lot of opinions from TV shows and apps. It’s crucial to ensure they are not building stereotypes in their growing minds.
– What are your childcare arrangements and how committed are they to promoting positive representation? Are they taking active steps to introduce diversity? How diverse is their staff? If you are unsure, speak to them about their plans and policies in place to raise a broad and diverse curriculum.
Family life plays a significant role in the thought-formation of a child. So, the place to introduce diversity and positive representation is in the home. If we are intentional about raising well-rounded, empathetic children, the toy box is one of the most effective ways to do so. Through a well-represented playroom, we teach our children to love.
Vese Aghoghovbia-Aladewolu is the founder of Philly & Friends, a children’s lifestyle brand that aims to add a drop of colour in the sea of children’s products while supporting underprivileged kids around the world. She is also the author of ‘Who Do I See in the Mirror?’
This article was first published in Absolutely Mama print magazine in November 2020.