Psychologists from public research university Goldsmiths, University of London plan to study whether British schoolchildren become more accepting to the idea of forming a friendship with an immigrant classmate after playing with toys that represent different ethnic backgrounds.
Dr Sian Jones and Professor Adam Rutland aim to spend a year working with children between the ages of five and nine in several London schools. Using popular Playmobil toys, which include characters with a variety of skin tones, the researchers will set up a toy school and ask children to imagine how the students of the toy school would interact with each other. The children will play with the toys just once for three minutes and then look at profiles of immigrant children online. They will then be asked whether they would share toys and other items like stickers with the immigrant children.
The children’s responses will be compared with those of a group of children who have simply been asked to imagine a friendship with an immigrant child without first playing with the multi-ethnic toys.
Previous Goldsmiths research that followed the same premise found that playing with wheelchair-using toys in the miniature classroom helped prompt children to share their toys with real-life wheelchair-using classmates and the aim of the new study is to see whether there will be a similar transference with ethnicity.
Jones said that recent waves of immigration around the world have posed new challenges for schools when it comes to tackling racism.
“Everyone knows that encouraging interaction between different social groups improves children’s attitudes to others who they might see as different,” she said. “An intervention as cheap and simple as diverse plastic toys could be a great way to really benefit school cohesion.”
Jason Smith and Georg de Gorostiza, co-founders of toy company Click-A-Brick, which just released the 100-piece Rescue Squad building block set, say they are excited to see this type of research being done, as it could be extremely helpful in the future for prompting children to be more accepting of newly arrived immigrants.
“We often talk about the benefit of educational toys, and we’re also fond of talking about how toys can be educational in ways that go beyond things like science, math, engineering and technology,” Smith said. “They can be used as tools to teach children a variety of things like acceptance of other cultures and ethnicities and integration of newly arrived immigrants into their classrooms. It’s good to see that research like this is being undertaken.”
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