Why Spiderman can’t go to preschool.

At The Room To Grow we believe the two do not go together. We are a fairly militantly commercial character free zone. Or, as I like to think of it….an oasis of relative aesthetic in a sea of garish, two-dimensional, shabbily constructed, over-priced stuff headed for the landfill. (strong feelings much?!)

Granted, the images of Disney and Star Wars and Sesame Street etc. are unavoidable, if you’re reading this blog you obviously haven’t retreated to an off-the-grid cabin on the south face of Anapurna. They probably have wifi there too by now. Pop culture is unavoidable and we aren’t suggesting anyone try to shut out the world around them…. but that doesn’t mean we don’t also have to give in and give up without trying to create pockets of sweet and innocent experience for our young children as they find their sense of self and value.
Do we really want our children to be responding to logo images before their first birthday? Research shows that babies and toddlers who are regularly exposed to screen time have negatively impacted cognitive and sleep patterns and is also associated with slower language development (contrary to what those early ‘educational’ video series would like you to believe).

What we’re talking about at preschool is the impact the licensed products have on three distinct areas of a child’s development and sense of themselves:

Positive and successful social interactions.
Creative and imaginative play.
Minimizing family stress.

When children play with one another in an environment that is rich in materials that lend themselves to unlimited imaginative uses, the children are immediately encouraged to think independently and creatively, then collaboratively. They use materials to create scenarios, tools, garb and other props that advance and enhance the play experience by employing the neutral objects around them in specific and assigned ways. There are also more and varied opportunities for different children to contribute to the narrative in a meaningful way, rather than just the one or two that either possess the toy or are most expert at the story lines.

The cardboard tube becomes a booster rocket, a trombone, handlebars or a pot roast. The emphasis is on the collective understanding and agreement within the context of the game. By bringing in Spiderman gloves with sound effect buttons, the Disney princess gown with jeweled tiara and maribou heels or the Star Wars Lego kit, those infinite possibilities are reduced to the few predetermined narratives the particular toy allows or references. When play is predetermined by an object or artifact, the opportunity for creativity, spontaneity and imagination are greatly reduced. Children will be bored when they don’t have a ‘script’ to follow, and ultimately find it more difficult to reason for themselves or identify and solve problems.

Finally, the family harmony component. At this age, it’s so easy to give kids a small toy, see their eyes light up and feel that wonderful feeling of bringing delight to your wee one. One of the central premises of marketing is that buying things will make us happy. But it is a fleeting happiness leaving us wanting more and it creates a culture of identifying one’s worth by one’s possessions or lack there of. We already see kids using their toys, shoes, lunchbox …you name it… as a source of status and a tool of social overture. Our goal is to reduce these types of superficial interactions and promote understanding, caring and camaraderie among children based on being who they are at their core and the wonderful shared experiences of discovering the world together.

There is a growing body of evidence that the pressure to spend creates a progressively materialistic outlook and that materialism is associated with lower self-esteem, anxiety and depression. It may be inevitable that your kids will one day insist that they neeeeed $200 sneakers and the latest iteration of the smart electronics because “everybody at school has one”… but for now it’s seems like a good idea not to give the marketing departments any unnecessary assistance.

Want more?  http://commercialfreechildhood.org/

About Kris Taylor

I am the very fortunate director of two small, mixed-age preschools that are finding their unique paths by interpreting and incorporating the best of the progressive, constructivist early childhood philosophies. I never forget that the community of teachers, families and children are what makes it the amazing place that it is. Each day is another precious opportunity to practice and perfect valuing, respecting and loving one another; creating and exploring community; and having immeasurable fun in the process.
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