Why It’s Imperative to Teach Empathy to Our Boys, by Gayle Allen and Deborah Farmer Kris

Empathy, Boys

When searching for toys for their kids at chain toy stores, parents typically encounter the following scenario: toy aisles are color-coded pink and blue. They shouldn’t bother looking for LEGOS, blocks, and trucks in the pink aisle, and they certainly won’t find baby dolls in the blue aisle.

While parents, researchers, and educators decry the lack of STEM toys for girls — and rightly so — what often goes unnoticed is that assigning genders to toys harms boys, as well. Too often children’s playrooms reinforce gender stereotypes that put boys at risk of failing to gain skills critical for success in life and work. The most important of these? Empathy.

Meg Bear, Group Vice President of Oracle’s Social Cloud, calls empathy “the critical 21st century skill.” She believes it’s the “difference between good and great” when it comes to personal and professional success. Researchers at Greater Good Science Center out of the University of California, Berkeley, echo Bear’s assertion. They define empathy as “the ability to sense other people’s emotions, coupled with the ability to imagine what someone else might be thinking or feeling.

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Yay for Barbie’s New Looks! By Mary Bowerman and Hadley Malcolm


Barbie may now look a bit more like the rest of us, curves and all.

Mattel, the maker of Barbie, announced Thursday the iconic doll will now come in three new body types and a variety of skin tones and hairstyles. This is the first time the doll will be available in body types beyond its original stick-thin frame.

Mattel has been putting Barbie through a transformation for the past two years to bring the doll in line with realistic body standards and reflect the diversity of the kids playing with the dolls. Last year Mattel introduced 23 new dolls with different skin tones, hairstyles, outfits and flat feet, rather than the perpetually pointy ones meant to fit into sky-high heels.

This year’s dolls will be available in tall, petite and curvy body types. Online sales start Thursday on Barbie.com and dolls will start hitting stores March 1, with a total of 33 new dolls being rolled out by the end of the year.

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Fighting Gender Stereotypes By Kate from Canberra


A Message for my Little Boy who likes to Wear Tutus

Reblogged from: “An Every Day Story” See link below:


I have a little boy…

A little boy who likes to wear tutus. A little boy who likes to dance. A little boy who loves to paint and a little boy who hums happy tunes all day long.

A comment came.

A comment too riddled with prejudice for me to repeat. A warning to me to be careful. A warning to not encourage such things or I’ll regret it later.

And so to this person I say nothing. For my words to her will change nothing. But to my little boy I say this, for my words to him can change everything.

Fighting Gender Stereotypes in Children - An Everyday Story

I say dance. And not just hip-hop dancing — wear that blue tutu that you love and twirl and twirl.

I say wear whatever clothes you want. Wear blue because you like blue, not because it’s a boys’ colour. And if you like pink, well, wear pink. And if you want to wear your sister’s dress, then heck, go ahead and do that too.

What’s that? Well of course you can wear fairy wings. Oh, and a firefighter’s hat too? Sure. And you know what? I’ll wear one too. And we’ll all head out for a walk, dressed in our glad rags, laughing and giggling.

‘Shall we play with clay today, Mummy?’ Sure.

Shall we add some sparkly beads?’ Sure.

And why not? Are pretty things that sparkle only to be enjoyed by girls?

‘Do you want to play soccer, Mummy?’ Sure do, buddy. But let’s play it because it brings you joy, not because it’s a boys’ sport. And maybe after we finish we can go inside and finish that tea party we were playing this morning?

I have a little boy.

He is a boy. He is a child. He likes to play. He builds blocks and plays house. He plays soccer and dances on painted tippy-toes.

He really couldn’t care less if he uses a pink toothbrush or a blue one. And neither could I.

And neither should you.

I have a little boy.

What about Santa? … a seven year old asks questions…

Chimney Check FYBy Kirsteen McLay-Knopp

“What about Santa?” my seven year old son asks me.

“What do you mean?” I reply.

“I mean, what about Santa?  There are all these poor kids in the world with no toys and Santa’s supposed to give presents to everyone.  Why doesn’t Santa just come along and give them all stuff?  They haven’t all been naughty have they?”

He’s a serious wee guy, this second son of mine, with a really good heart for helping those less fortunate than himself.  What to say?  I reassure him that no, the children in poorer parts of the world (and those whose families are struggling here in our own country) haven’t all been naughty.  At the same time, I think to myself that not every child who receives an expensive present has been consistently “good”.  I manage to mumble some stuff about Santa being very busy and having so many countries to visit in one night and sometimes Santa needs help in looking after the “poor people”, so those of us who are more fortunate can help (like with the “Operation Christmas Child” shoe boxes… see older posts on this blog).  I can tell that my son is not entirely satisfied with my answer.

Mr. ClausWhy do we have Santa Claus in our culture?  What’s the history and meaning behind the old man in red?  He’s nothing to do with the birth of Jesus (just by the way, many “Christmas” things including decorated trees have nothing to do with the birth of Christ either).  When I was teaching English in Vietnam some years ago and explaining Christmas traditions, one of my students said, after having heard about Santa Claus, “so you lie to your children? And you tell them that someone comes into your homes in the middle of the night while you are asleep?”.  Put like that, it does sound like a weird custom.

Santa Claus… Kris Kringle…Old Saint Nick… We see him on advertising posters, in parades, at departments stores… who is this guy and why does he have so many aliases? And how does he accomplish the seemingly impossible task of flying around the world and delivering (house by house) presents for every single child on the planet (but, as my seven year old noted, forgetting the poor and disadvantaged who don’t seem to get anything)?

St. Nicholas "Lipensky" (1294), Lipnya Church of St. Nicholas in Novgorod

St. Nicholas “Lipensky” (1294), Lipnya Church of St. Nicholas in Novgorod

The original St. Nicholas lived in southwestern Turkey in the 4th century. As the bishop of Myra he was credited with doing a number of miracles involving sailors and children. After his death this led him to become the patron saint of both groups as well as for unmarried girls. As a saint he was given his own “feast day” which was celebrated on December 6th.

At about the same time Nicholas lived, Pope Julius I decided to establish a date for the celebration of the birth of Jesus. As the actual time of year for this event was unknown, the Pope decided to assign the holiday to December 25th. There had long been a pagan midwinter festival at this time of year and the Pope hoped to use the holiday to Christianize the celebrations.

Eventually, Saint Nicholas’s feast day also became associated with December 25th and his connection with Christmas was established. A tradition developed that he would supposedly visit homes on Christmas Eve and children would place nuts, apples, sweets and other items around the house to welcome him.

From these origins, the Santa Claus we know today evolved.   In the now famous poem The Night Before Christmas (written by Clement Moore in 1822), Saint Nicholas is depicted with a sleigh drawn by eight (named) reindeer. They fly him from house to house and at each residence he comes down the chimney to fill stockings hung by the fireplace with gifts.  Where did Moore get the idea of Santa Claus having reindeer? The Saami people of northern Scandinavia and Finland often used reindeer to pull their sledges around and this found its way into the poem.

1881 illustration by Thomas Nast

1881 illustration by Thomas Nast

Norman Rockwell’s 1921 cover for the magazine The Country Gentleman shows Santa with his modern red and white theme.

As time went by, more and more was added to the Santa Claus legend. Thomas Nast, a 19th century cartoonist, did a series of drawings for Harper’s Weekly. Nash’s vision of Santa had him living at the North Pole. Nash also gave him a workshop for building toys and a large book filled with the names of children who had been naughty or nice.

The 19th century Santa was often shown wearing outfits of different colors: purple, green and blue in addition to red. This slowly faded out so that by the beginning of the 20th century the standard image of Santa Claus was a man in a red suit trimmed with white.

So the question remains: should we tell our children about Santa Claus?  I know people who, for various reasons (including that Santa detracts from celebrating the birth of Jesus and that the whole “Santa story” is just an excuse for excessive Western materialism) do not want the old dude in the red suit associated with their Christmas at all.  I can understand these sentiments at one level and everyone is entitled to make their own choices.  Just as I know Christian people who do and who do not incorporate Santa Claus into their celebrations, I also know a number of people of other faiths whose views about him differ.  Muslim friends of ours take their children to Santa every year because “…the kids love it and he doesn’t have anything to do with religion.”  Many feel that he’s a kind of “uniting figure” of childhood, a “shared memory” of children around the globe, creating the “Forever Years” of their Christmases.

I don’t recall ever feeling “lied to” as a child about the existence of Santa Claus.  What I do recall, if I really think back to the Christmases of my childhood, is the intense excitement I felt on Christmas Eve, even if it was tempered, once I passed a certain age, with some suspicions.  I still feel that excitement now as I see my own children when the “special day” draws nearer and when I find my seven year old attempting to put his head up our chimney (I did this too as a child and ended up covered in soot).

A sense of this joy and childhood Christmas wonder is conveyed in the famous answer to an American girl’s letter to the editor of  The New York Sun newspaper, in 1897, in which she asks whether there really is a Santa Claus.  I will print this below, you might enjoy reading it with your children this Christmas.  May we all share joy and the spirit of kindness and giving not just with our families, but also with all “our” children, the children of the world, at Christmas time and all through the year.


Left: Virginia O’Hanlon                                 Right: Francis Church, writer for “The Sun”

yesvirginiaNewsman Francis Church wrote The Sun’s reply to Virginia’s letter:

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Top Toys of Christmases Past: 25 Years of “Must Have” Toys!

Toys Collage FY

Provided for The Forever Years by Jules Garcia of Personal Creations

Remember the hectic mall visits leading up to the holidays to snatch the last “Tickle Me Elmo”? Or what about when “Furby fever” seemed to take over every tween’s wish list? Whether you were giving or receiving these toys, chances are some made it to your home wrapped in a big bow.

Harken back to toys of Christmases past with us and see if any of your favorites made the list:


25 Years of Must-Have Toys

Graphic Source: “Personal Creations”– see link below.

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“Children’s toys I Remember” : Childhood Memory Piece, by Jan McLay-Bell

Meet Jan
Jan FY

Jan McLay Bell was born in Balcutha, in the South Island of New Zealand.  She is a Primary School teacher by training.  Together with her husband, she has raised three children of her own and is now a proud grandmother of eight.  Jan now lives in Papakura, in the North Island.  She enjoys reading, writing, film and family (historical and current).

Jan article header FY

The four McLay children around 1947 with their mother (left) and grandmother (right). The author is the 3rd girl, with her hands on her little brother’s shoulders.

My siblings and I, the McLay children, were born 1938, 1941, 1942 and 1945 in Balclutha.  Looking back, I think since everything we had in NZ then had a “Made in England” label, many of the toys we had were the result of shipping disrupted by the  World War 2.  Our parents, grandparents Aunts and Uncles had to be creative, literally.  My Dad made wooden toy train engines for us. Mine I remember, had a circular toy block for its water tank and a bright red threading bead as a funnel. Our Uncle Peter made two wonderful cars out of tin, all complete steering wheels and number plates 1 4 U. My two older sister had dolls bought in a shop with heads made solidly of plaster of Paris sewn on to linen bodies but the heads were so heavy when you held the dolls they fell forwards and clonked the unsuspecting child on the head!
Everyone had soft toys made from scraps of material.  My sister Carol had a stuffed black elephant called “Eli”, with a saddle sewn on his back. Mum bought him at the church sale along with a felt pink pig called “Piglet” which was mine.  I tried to nurse Piglet back to health by rubbing purple crystals on him, the stain never faded. Dad also made a dolls’ house out of the ever useful apples cases that were so plentiful when we were kids.  The Aunts came up with innovative ways of making furniture: even a miniature suite made with gum nuts, wool and pins, which my sister Carol helped to make.
Our trike was bought second hand as were all our full sized bikes, except for one, which my Dad saw in all its shining blue glory in the cycle shop in Balclutha. He phoned my mother to tell her it would be just right for my sister Carol, who at that time was short in stature.  Seeing it was brand new, it was expensive, but after much debate the blue bike was bought and she rode it to Balclutha Primary School for a lot of years.
Another new toy was purchased in Wanaka when we were staying for our Christmas holidays when our grandfather Symons was the sole policeman.  The general store up the steps opposite the post office had a green scooter way up on a high shelf.  To us four kids it was fantastic!  What a thrill to have it among our Christmas presents on Christmas morning!  One scooter between four kids, so we had to take turns!
My one wish was to have a “sleeping doll” with eyes that would really close. During the polio epidemic, when I was four, I went to Wanaka to stay with my grandparents for a while. When they brought me home they placed a big box on the floor of the kitchen of our house in Ann Street, Balclutha. On opening it I found, to my joy, a “sleeping doll” dressed in a white frock!  I called her Christine.  She was loved so much.  Her head opened and you could see how her eyes worked.  She was glued many, many, times and my Grandad Symons painted her face cream later on. I was a bit sad because it made her look different. My daughter had her among her toys, but Christine really was past her “used by date” by then. So eventually, and sadly, she went where all old toys go….