What Messages are Toy Marketers Sending to Boys and Girls?

Oh how we love inquiry based learning here in Ms. Green’s class!  Every Friday, we watch Flocabulary‘s The Week in Rap, a weekly news segment presented in a three to four minute rap.  We watch the video once, then a second time, and the kids are asked to hold on to a comment or a question for the second time around.  It is amazing how many rich these conversations can be.

A couple weeks ago, thanks again to Flocabulary Friday, we had a really great conversation about the new Barbies being released.  We had so many questions.  Why did they change Barbies?  Is this important?  Did they really make things better?  What messages were Barbies sending to young girls before, and what are they sending now?  What messages are other toys sending?  We decided that we needed to let our inquiry guide us to answers!  So yesterday, we spent the day analyzing Legos, Barbies, and our new favorite, Goldieblox.

Here’s how we approached the day:

Starting off the day:  Students each brought in a toy or two.  We gathered together on the carpet and I passed out toys around the circle.  Students were then asked to work together to sort the toys into toys marketed for girls and toys marketed for boys.  I asked them to thing very carefully about the criteria they were using to sort their toys.  What makes a toy appropriate for boys?  What makes a toy appropriate for girls?  After our partner work, we came together again to create a venn diagram comparing boy toys and girl toys.  Students were then given a data collection packet to record their findings.

Back at our tables, we jotted down notes from our first exploration and then began investigating more closely at three different online stations.


Station One: Barbies:  Students went to toysrus.com, where they closely analyzed the barbies being sold and marketed.  What did they look like?  What kinds of things were they doing?  Were these women realistically proportioned?  Did they appear to have jobs?  How did this contrast to the dolls created for boys?  (We avoided using Barbie.com for this portion just because they have reworked their whole website to market the “new and improved” Barbies.  We visited the Barbie site as a class later on.)

One of the most interesting discoveries our students made was this comparison of the sale price of a white Barbie vs. a darker skinned Barbie: Screen Shot 2016-02-18 at 9.40.49 AM

What statement is Toys R Us making here?  Not only is the darker skinned Barbie priced less, but she is named “Color Me Cute African-American Doll,” while the white Barbie is just called a “Color Me Cute Doll”, with no mention of race, further reinforcing the idea that white is the norm.  We were very saddened by this finding.  I don’t know how long the products will remain listed like this, but here‘s the link to our Toys R Us search so you can see for yourself.

Station Two: Legos:  Students went to Lego.com, browsed products, watched videos, and carefully analyzed the different roles provided for boy legos and girl legos.  They paid particular attention to the differences between toy sets created for girls and those created for boys.


Station Three: GoldieBlox:  This one is our favorite! We watched Debbie’s original KickStarter video from 2012, and talked about the difference between this toy and the other toys on the market.

After discussing KickStarter and why a there was a need and importance for a toy like this, we went to the GoldieBlox website to see how successful this project has really been, and wow, we were blown away!  Here’s what they’ve accomplished over the last three years:

We all decided that we are not surprised that the toy company has been so successful!  We are all about it.  Ms. Green’s favorite part of the GoldieBlox website was this great picture of the world’s next Ruth Bader Ginsberg:

Screen Shot 2016-02-18 at 10.51.30 AM

And check this favorite video out:

We just love GoldieBlox, and we love the positive, empowering messages being sent to young girls!

Due to rich conversations and inquiries, each group was only able to get through two stations in our workshop day.  So the next day, to finish up our stations, I had each group become an expert on one station they investigated the day before, and they were able to teach the class about Legos, Barbies, or GoldieBlox.  We wrapped the whole thing up with a discussion of media literacy, watching this clip from The Representation Project:

For extended reading, we of course turned to Newsela.  I created this text set for students to read more opinions, perspectives, and current issues on representation in the toy world.

This project was awesome for so many reasons.  It brought about incredible conversation, investigation, critical thinking, and media literacy, all through student led inquiry.  Students were thoroughly invested in their own learning.  This workshop also fits in perfectly with the way we teach history backwards here at UT Elementary, because it led us to ask the questions, well, why are girls treated this way?  Why are women given these roles?  How did we get here?  Our class is now ripe and ready for our women’s studies unit, discovering the victories women have won throughout the past century and the battles still to be won.


4 responses to “What Messages are Toy Marketers Sending to Boys and Girls?”

  1. hcweicker Avatar

    You and your students never cease to amaze me! Keep it up one and all.

    Sent from the family iPad



  2. Scarlett Calvin Avatar
    Scarlett Calvin

    Amazing lessons to be learned in Ms. Green’s class! Thank you for sharing!! So cool.


  3. Beth Avatar

    I just checked the link and it looks like they reduced the price of the Color Me Cute “Culturally Normative” Barbie. Way to be a change maker.


    1. erintaylorgreen Avatar

      I just shared this with my kids. They are so proud of themselves!!! Thanks for telling us


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