The COVID-19 pandemic is the most significant disruption to educational systems in recent history, and many children are unable to attend schools safely — with around 1.5 billion children globally affected by school closures.
However, this crisis — described by the UN as an impending "generational catastrophe" — doesn't mean that children can't continue to learn creatively at home, including through educational toys.
The pandemic has also shown the importance of having creative and well-rounded leaders who can innovatively and collaboratively respond to world problems.
And, with today's children being tomorrow's leaders, it's more important than ever to ensure that children are learning about global issues while developing the skills they need to advocate for change in the future.
Here are a selection of 10 toys that will help children understand different cultures and challenges worldwide, while also inspiring them to be the future advocates in the mission to end extreme poverty and its systemic causes — from climate change to racial and gender inequality, and more.
1. My Family Builders
Every family looks different, and every child will have varying ideas about what family means to them. The My Family Builders set will help young children learn about different family units and how to respect and appreciate diversity.
The set includes magnetic blocks that can be stacked together to build people with different skin colors, ethnicities, and cultural clothing. The options are endless, allowing kids to try and build figurines that accurately reflect their families and the families around them. There are also cards with examples of different family units that children can then replicate in the blocks.
2. 'A Is For Activist'
A Is For Activist is a book that puts a spin on the classic ABCs to help young children learn about activists, environmental justice, civil rights, LGBTQ rights, and more.
The book was created by Innosanto Nagara, who originally wrote it to help his children learn about these important topics. Now a bestseller, the book is filled with vibrant drawings, alliteration, and rhyming to help children understand concepts like community, equality, and justice.
A Is For Activist is the perfect way to introduce essential words into your child’s vocabulary from a young age and help inspire the next generation of activists.
3. 'Coloring Without Borders'
Families Belong Together, a campaign that aims to reunite families, created the Coloring Without Borders coloring book to foster creativity in children and help educate them about families separated from their loved ones by borders.
The coloring book does not have any lines for children to draw inside, as the creators want young artists to use their imagination to dream up spaces that are not confined by borders.
The images in the coloring book were created by 80 artists from around the world, so the young artists have to think about how they want to contribute to the piece in front of them to help encourage their creativity.
4. ‘Inspiring Women’ Barbies
Barbie has received criticism in the past for portraying the single image of a blond, slim, white woman. But the company’s new collection — the ‘Inspiring Women' series — features women from history who “took risks, changed the rules, and paved the way” for the next generation.
Children can now play with dolls representing greats like Amelia Earhart, Katherine Johnson, Frida Kahlo, Maya Angelou, Rosa Parks, Sally Ridge, Billie Jean King, Ella Fitzgerald, Florence Nightingale, and Susan B. Anthony.
Barbie creator Mattel hopes the dolls will inspire young children to understand they can be and do anything they set their minds to.
Each doll comes with information about how each trailblazer contributed to driving change, to help children learn about history as they play.
5. Doctor Barbie
COVID-19 has highlighted the importance of medical workers who, in the face of the ongoing pandemic, are making daily sacrifices to help keep us all safe.
Doctor Barbie inspires kids to dream big and pursue all their career goals. Especially in the medical field, which has historically been dominated by men, Doctor Barbie can be a role model for girls interested in practicing medicine.
Beyond Doctor Barbie, there are also Barbies designed after other essential workers, like firefighters. These dolls can inspire children to think about careers dedicated to helping other people when they grow up.
6. Wonder Crew Dolls
All children can enjoy playing with dolls, regardless of their gender. Wonder Crew Dolls were specifically designed with the knowledge that playing with dolls can dramatically help boys improve their social and emotional literacy.
While the dolls were originally created to inspire boys to play with dolls, they aim to empower all children to be creative, caring, and nurturing friends.
Founder of the Wonder Crew Dolls, Laurel Wider, is widely recognized for her work to develop gender-neutral toys and even spoke at the White House about the importance of breaking down gender stereotypes in toys.
The Wonder Crew superhero dolls will help your child develop social-emotional skills that give them a deeper understanding of humanity and community, and inspire them to champion everyone's rights in the future.
7. Climate March 100-Piece Puzzle
Puzzles are proven to be a great way for kids to develop their problem-solving skills, ability to work on a team, and focus.
Featuring artwork by Petra Braun, the Climate March puzzle shows peaceful protestors carrying signs with phrases like ‘There is no Planet B', and ‘Our streets flood, so we flood the streets'.
One sign reads 'You are never too small to make a difference', which is sure to inspire every child to feel empowered to fight for climate change action, no matter how old they are.
The puzzle is the perfect toy to help children spend time away from screens in a relaxing environment that will challenge their cognitive skills.
8. Coding Critters
The interactive game Coding Critters brings STEM concepts to preschool learning by introducing young children to the world of coding.
In the game, children read along with a storybook and give screen-free coding instructions to pet dogs, Ranger and Zip. Coding Critters was awarded the 2020 Toy of the Year in the preschool category at the US Toy Association industry awards for creatively teaching preschool students about technology.
In a constantly evolving world, fundamental technology and coding skills will help equip children with all the skills they need to solve problems in the future.
9. Children of the World Memory Game
Understanding and respecting different cultures is at the core of global citizenship, and Children of the World helps to introduce children to a wide variety of global cultures.
The game is inspired by the song "If You’re Happy and You Know It!", and children match cards of children from different countries with each other. By playing the game, kids can learn about traditional clothing and how to say hello in 36 different languages.
Beyond learning about different cultures, children will also develop their memory and matching skills.
10. Global Water Quality Kit
The Global Water Kit is a great pick for a child who is interested in science. Water is an essential commodity on Earth, yet millions of people live worldwide without reliable access to clean drinking water — which is at the core of Global Goal 6, for clean water and sanitation.
The science kit will help children develop their scientific curiosity and learn about how water is purified. Working on these experiments might just inspire your child to join the fight to bring clean water to those who need it the most.
While these toys are excellent resources for children to learn, there are also cheaper, or even free, online tools that can help introduce kids to these topics. The World's Largest Lesson, for example, has a range of activities and materials all available online and free of charge.
You can also watch movies or TV shows that address similar topics, or start open dialogues to introduce concepts throughout their childhood.
From toys to books and puzzles to movies, there are so many ways to raise the next generation of Global Citizens.