When I was young, toys were used to  keep children engaged. While some also developed social skills and strengthened role playing, the primary goal was to keep children entertained and provide parents time to relax or take care of other chores. However, with increasing awareness regarding the benefits of playing, toys now play a very diverse role. Below are some benefits of toys that might help educators create a classroom that is inclusive, promote a sense of belonging and help reduce anxiety. Parents might also find this list relevant, especially if they wish for their children to develop respect and appreciation of others. 

Greater Representation

While a lot of toys previously represented White children with colored eyes, this trend is slowly changing and toy companies are now recognizing the benefits of diversity. For example, a visit to a toy store will demonstrate that dolls now represent diverse cultures, backgrounds and abilities. When children see dolls that look like them, they feel valued and included. Such positive representation empowers them and fosters a sense of belonging. 

Breaking Gender Stereotypes

When I taught preschool, I remember that we had a tool table for boys and a pink kitchenette for girls. Teachers often encouraged young children to play in their gender designated areas. Now when I reflect on this practice, I can understand how we unconsciously promoted gender stereotyping. As someone who practices diversity, equity and inclusion and follows the constructivist philosophy, I believe that educators must allow children to follow their interests and not limit them to toys based on arbitrary expectations regarding gender preferences.

To change our limited and static mindset, we must continue to challenge our assumptions and beliefs. One of the things I do on a regular basis is observe people working in different professions. This simple step allows me to recognize diversity within various workplaces and upends the notion of certain genders being ascribed to certain professions. For example, if I see a successful female in a profession I previously associated with males. A similar concept can be applied to young children. For example, instead of using the outdated term fireman, we should teach them about what it means to be a firefighter. To make them more accepting of gender equality, gender neutral toys should be included within the classroom. Lego recently announced that it will remove gender stereotypes from its toys to become more inclusive(Russell, 2021). 

Religious Representation

Many Muslim girls in the West are harassed and bullied because young children are not accustomed to seeing anyone with a hijab or head covering. To address this challenge and create awareness and respect for different religious practices, the American Girl doll company now sells an outfit for their dolls that incorporates a hijab and clothing traditionally worn by Muslim girls (Reza, 2021). 


Children with disabilities often face challenges within their school. Young children do not know how to explain their disabilities to others and often feel left out and isolated. This can create low self-esteem, a feeling of exclusion and sometimes might even affect their mental well-being. However, if classrooms are equipped with diverse toys, teachers can use props to create awareness and promote inclusion. For example, Barbie recently launched a doll with hearing aids (Dolan, 2022). When students interact or play with such toys, they are more accepting of their peers who might also use a hearing aid. Similarly, children who have cancer might lose their hair due to chemotherapy. Barbie’s doll, Ella has also lost her hair due to chemotherapy. The doll includes accessories such as wigs and headscarves (Moss, 2014). In the United Kingdom, beads of courage are given to children who undergo cancer treatments, to provide them a healthy coping mechanism to face their illness (Children with Cancer UK, 2023).

While this is by no means a comprehensive list, these toys can create awareness regarding greater representation of diversity in school and at home. As parents and teachers, we buy toys for young children. Why not invest in toys that foster greater inclusion?


Children with Cancer UK. (2023, June 19). Beads of courage. https://www.childrenwithcancer.org.uk/childhood-cancer-info/coping-with-cancer/beads-of-courage/

Dolan, L. (2022, May 11). Barbie unveils its first-ever doll with hearing aids. CNN. https://www.cnn.com/style/article/barbie-hearing-aid-ken-vitiligo/index.html

Moss, R. (2014, June 30). How Barbie helps kids come to terms with cancer. HuffPost UK. https://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2014/06/30/chemotherapy-barbie-ella-petition-children-cancer-_n_5542778.html

Reza, F. (2021, December). Diversity and inclusive practices: Representing Muslim children. Childhood Explorer. https://www.childhoodexplorer.org/diversity

Russell, H. (2021, October 10). Lego to remove gender bias from its toys after findings of child survey. the Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2021/oct/11/lego-to-remove-gender-bias-after-survey-shows-impact-on-children-stereotypes

About the Author

Fawzia Reza, Ed.D. Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Manager received her Doctorate in Educational Leadership from the California State University, Long Beach (CSULB) in May 2013. Her thesis topic, which explored the experiences and expectations of immigrant Pakistani parents regarding parental involvement in schools, has highlighted the social justice shortcomings that have been faced by these parents in the light of recent world events.  A book based on her thesis, The Effects of the September 11 Terrorist Attack on Pakistani-American Parental Involvement in U.S. Schools, was released by Lexington Books in 2015. Her first children’s book, Mary and Her New Friends, which was released in 2019 by Austin Macauley Publishers, addresses themes related to South Asian culture and helps young children develop empathy for those with special needs.  

Dr. Reza continues to be an active researcher on topics related to education. She has written several research based and peer-reviewed articles that address social justice issues of immigrant parents and students and she recently served as a guest editor for Diversity and Inclusion in Educational Institutions by Cambridge Scholars Publishing which was released in January 2022.