Play In A Changing World

As long as kids have been around, kids have sought toys to play with. In the past, things were a little more simple for them; they could run around outside or spend time in the woods, where a patch of bushes and a few sticks could make a fort. As Americans moved to cities in increasingly large numbers in the early 1930s, a consensus formed that kids did not only need playgrounds to exercise their bodies or libraries to develop their minds, but they also needed toys, which uniquely develop children’s motor skills and imaginations.

While America has changed since the 1930s, becoming far more technologically advanced, today’s kids still need toys! A recent study by the American Academy of Pediatrics found that:

Play is essential to optimal child development because it contributes to the cognitive, physical, social, and emotional well-being of children and youth. It also offers an ideal and significant opportunity for parents and other caregivers to engage fully with children using toys as an instrument of play and interaction. 

At Little Likes Kids™ we take this understanding of the value of play one step further, believing that kids, when they’re having fun exploring their imaginations and building their own worlds, they must also have toys that reflect their world and their everyday life experiences — visiting the ice cream truck at the playground, jumping rope, or going to the barbershop.

Writing in the New York Times, Denene Miller noted the limited representation of African-American kids in children’s books published in the United States. Of the 3,500 children’s books published in the United States last year, 319 featured black characters, according to the Cooperative Children’s Book Center.

This problem of limited representation exists not only in books but also in toys. As Ms. Miller suggested, children’s books often celebrate the famous African-Americans who have overcome struggle and been the first to accomplish something, which is wonderful, but not the entirety of the African-American experience. Many of the books and matching games I’ve seen with African-Americans featured are focused on overcoming struggle. There will be plenty of time later in life for learning and contextualizing history.


All parents want their kids to see themselves in the world and to be happy and successful members of an increasingly diverse generation.

Little Likes Kids™ was founded by a mom with the understanding that her son and all of the kids in his wonderfully diverse gaggle of friends need to see toys with experiences that reflect their daily lives. This is how kids see humanity in themselves and in each other. To be sure, in addition to the ordinary nesting that goes on with motherhood, black mothers are not only furiously nesting, we are also furiously humanizing. We know the dangers, big and small, of society not seeing our babies as fully human. Bringing high-quality multicultural toys to a mass-market provides parents and caregivers with important resources to help children learn and grow developmentally and thrive in a changing world. All parents want their kids to see themselves in the world and to be happy and successful members of an increasingly diverse generation.

As a parent and as a pediatrician wrote recently:

[C]hildren need manipulative toys, blocks and puzzles that let them practice with their hands and their brains, they need props for imagination and for interaction, books that will be read aloud over and over, space and scope to invent stories and act them out.

At Little Likes Kids™we believe it’s healthiest when children are making their own worlds with characters who look like them, their friends, and people in their communities. It’s most natural and expands their imagination of what’s possible.

In August 2018, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) began recommending that pediatricians start writing prescriptions for open-ended play — that is, minimally structured free time without rules or goals. The AAP came to believe that traditional open, ended play has become endangered, mainly by the proliferation of smartphone apps for kids. And also endangered by other toys with flashing lights and loud sounds.

In 2019 advice to parents, the AAP recognizes that one of the most important purposes of play with toys throughout childhood, and especially in infancy, is not educational at all but rather to facilitate warm, supportive interactions and relationships. Little Likes Kids™ is here with diverse toys that support that mission.

Many parents agree with the AAP’s advice, going to lengthy measurers to reduce the amount of screen time to which children are exposed. For example, in Silicon Valley, parents are now asking nannies to sign stringent “no-phone use contracts.” In Overland Park, a suburb of Kansas City, Mo., about 150 parents have been meeting to talk about how to get their children off screens. Play-based pre-schools — my son attended one — are becoming popular again.

Electronic toys can be isolating to kids — they play with them alone instead of with a caregiver. The children are not using eye contact, negotiating play scenarios, or developing their motor skills to the extent they do with blocks. Children using devices are not developing the social skills that they will need to grow into productive adults. Further, there is not nearly enough research yet on the impact of significant technology usage on kids age 0–6. In light of these concerns, millennial parents are understandably working to limit its influence.

If “play is the work of childhood,” as the psychologist Jean Piaget put it, we want kids to prepare themselves through play for the diverse world they will work in and lead as adults.