On occasion, people ask me why I bother taking children’s toys so seriously. “They’re just toys, after all!”

Yes, toys are just toys–but they’re so much more than that, too. Toys are a central part of children’s play, and to a child, play is very important work. Through play, children experiment with their visions for themselves and others in the world; play is part of their learning and socialization.

So, it’s worth talking seriously about toys, for they have the power to shape children’s dreams and worldviews.

Plus, as the infographic below from Frugal Dad explains, toy sales are big, big business. Family spending on toys went up during the recession, even as families’ grocery spending declined. The major manufacturers, Mattel and Hasbro, are aggressive marketers; when marketers harness children’s “pester power” so skillfully, it’s hard to resist the temptation to buy new toys.


Source: frugaldad.com. Used with permission.

It’s also worth remembering that with if two manufacturers monopolize 40% of the toy industry, and aggressively market their goods, their worldviews can wind up permeating our homes. You know all the recent complaints about sexism in children’s toys? Take a look at who composes the boards of directors at Hasbro and Mattel.

Oh, and while you’re at it, check out the board of directors at LEGO and the executive team from Disney’s consumer products division, too.

See any trends?

If you said, “Wow, it’s mostly white men,” then we’re on the same page. If the people in charge lack racial diversity and skew heavily towards men, that has implications for the kinds of toys the major manufacturers will produce: dynamic, engaging toys for boys, and stereotypical, reductionist toys for girls–and poor representation of people of color, too.

Rebecca Hains is an assistant professor of communications at Salem State University and an affiliated faculty member with the Center for Childhood and Youth Studies. This piece has been cross posted from Rebecca’s blog, where it was originally titled “Talking about toys: Taking child’s play seriously.”