A new research project aims to find out whether playing with toys representing different races could help children to be more accepting of immigrant classmates.
Psychologists from Goldsmiths, University of London, will be looking at whether British schoolchildren are better at imagining a friendship with an immigrant classmate, after playing with Playmobil toys representing children of different ethnic backgrounds.
Dr Sian Jones and Professor Adam Rutland will spend a year working with children between the ages of five and nine, in several London schools. Using the Playmobil toys, they will set up a toy school, and imagine the interactions between the children. They will be asked to play with the toys just once, for three minutes.
The aim is to see whether these interactions can be transferred from the toy classroom into the full-size version.
So, after playing with the multi-ethnic toys, the children will look at profiles of immigrant children online. They will then be asked whether they would share toys, such as stickers, with these children.
Their responses will be compared with those of children who have simply been asked to imagine a friendship with an immigrant child.
Previous Goldsmiths research, based on the same premise, found that playing with wheelchair-using toys in the miniature classroom helped them to share their toys with real-life wheelchair-using classmates.
Dr Jones said that recent waves of immigration into Britain have posed new challenges for schools when it comes to tackling racism.
“Everyone knows that encouraging interaction between different social groups improves children’s attitudes to others who they might see as different,” she said. “An intervention as cheap and simple as diverse plastic toys could be a great way to really benefit school cohesion.”