My Family Builders: Talking race, gender and family structures
Note: This is not a sponsored post. All opinions are those of the author.
I’m always on the hunt for children’s books and toys that are diverse and feature individuals and families beyond the typical “white-and-heterosexual-as-norm” narrative. We recently introduced the toy My Family Builders into our household and are so glad we did.
My Family Builders, for ages 1-99, is a magnetic wooden toy set that allows kids to build people of various genders and race and ultimately create families that are as diverse as the world around them. The company’s mission is to help create a world where parents and kids celebrate love and the values shared by all families, regardless of color, creed, sexual orientation or culture. The materials used are also eco-friendly and non-toxic. Score!
I have been eyeing My Family Builder’s for nearly a year, but I finally made the purchase during a 50% flash sale. My four-year-old son was the first to open up the set when it arrived. Included are 48 wooden pieces (16 adult heads, 16 kids heads, and the rest bodies and legs that are covered in different pieces of clothing) and a deck of flash cards.
Half of the flash cards show pictures of families that are varied and diverse: some families have two dads, some have two moms, some have one parent, some have a mom and a dad; some adult partners are the same race, other partners are interracial; some families all have the same skin color, others are multiracial. Children are instructed to build the families illustrated on the flashcards using the blocks as a matching game.
The other half of the flash cards show families with one or two people left blank and children are offered the opportunity to create the missing family members.
We decided to play the matching game. My son selected a flashcard, which happened to show a family with a Black mom, white dad and two Black children. As we searched through the set to find the matching pieces, we talked about what we saw on the card.
I said, “Look, the mom and the children all have dark brown skin. They might identify as Black. And the Dad has peachy skin. He appears to be White.”
“Yea, his skin kinda looks like ours,” my son replied. I agreed and then pointed out, “In some families, all of the people have skin that looks similar, like in our family. But in other families, people have different color skin from each other, like the family on this card.”
My son nodded silently and once we completed building the family, he selected another card. This family had two moms, one with dark brown skin, the other with light brown skin and a child with light brown skin. I pointed out the skin tones as we looked for the pieces, but focused more on the fact that this family had two mothers.
“In this family, there are two mommies. Like Spencer (name changed) in your class!”
“Oh yea!” He replied.
We went on to build various families and talk about what was presented on each card. Before we put My Family Builders away, my son suggested we build our family. I absolutely loved seeing his creativity as he decided what each of us would wear.
My son wanted his character to be dressed in what he described as “girl clothes.” When I asked him what that meant, he said he wanted a shirt with a necklace on it. I pointed out that he likes to wear necklaces sometimes and reminded him that I don’t like when clothes or accessories are designated as for boys or for girls only. People should be able to wear what they like and what makes them feel good.
My son nodded and then decided he wanted my husband’s character to wear pink pants, because “that would look really nice!” My character wore glasses and some sweet looking red pants and our daughter was in a monochromatic blue ensemble. If only we had such awesome fashion sense in real life!
We’ve played with My Family Builders several times since this initial encounter and my son seems to be absorbing the conversations had while building. Our nanny mentioned the first time she and my son played with the set, he pulled a card with two dads on it. He explained to her, “you know, some families have two daddy’s,” in a matter-of-fact tone. Yes!
I’ll add that my nearly two-year-old loves this set, too, mainly because the magnets make each person very sturdy and she feels command while she builds. She also uses them to name race in her two-year-old language. She points to the characters and says “brown skin” or “peachy skin, we white” while rubbing her arm.
My Family Builders is such a fantastic toy, but it’s important to note that it is expensive, at $99 a set. Word on the street is, the price remains high because big box stores like Target will not purchase them because of the representation of gay families. I have not spoken to anyone at My Family Builders to confirm this rumor, but my hope is they will have another flash sale (you can follow them on Facebook) and/or the price drops as stores pick up this wonderful product.
Playing with My Family Builders is both enjoyable and educational. The set presents many opportunities to discuss race, family structures and even gender norms with my children. In fact, these conversations come incredibly easy because each family dynamic is physically represented right before us with both the visual on the flashcards as well as the building blocks. I see many more fruitful discussions using My Family Builders in the future.
A version of this article was originally posted on A Striving Parent.
Shannon Gaggero holds a Masters in Counseling Psychology with an emphasis in School Counseling from The University of San Francisco and a B.A. in English from Cornell University. She is the author of the blog A Striving Parent, which is a forum for parents striving to engage in the social justice movement and to raise socially conscious kids. Shannon lives in her hometown, Atlanta, Georgia, with her husband and two young children. Her current full-time position is stay at home mama.