26 Unique & Beautiful Toys That Help Teach Kids About Race, Diversity, & Inclusion
Every kid is different, but most have one thing in common: They love to play. Think back to the pure, unadulterated joy you felt spending hours on end pouring tea for stuffed animals or exploring the stratosphere in a cardboard box spaceship and you'll remember: kids learn about themselves, the world, and their place in that world through play. That's why joyful, engaging toys and games that teach kids about race, diversity, and inclusion are so essential.
"Kids who play with diverse toys will be more familiar with different skin colors, which will make the people they encounter who have a different skin tone no longer feel like an 'other'," child therapist Jodi Aman, LCSW, tells Romper.
Han Ren, Ph.D., a psychologist whose specialties include working with children of immigrants, agrees. "Just as kids of both genders should have access to dolls, trucks, balls, Legos, [and other] traditionally 'gendered' toys, having access to toys with representation of the world and of people of global majority helps children relate and identify with people and lifestyles they don't see daily," she says.
Of course, plunking a bunch of diverse toys into a bin is not enough, Dr. Ren adds. “If children play with diverse toys with no engagement in dialogue and modeling, this could lead to a microcosm of the racial injustices they view in their daily lives. However, if these toys are introduced thoughtfully and intentionally, children can certainly learn to expand their worldviews.” For example, when you and your child play with these toys, you can use what the blog Raising Race Conscious Children calls "explicit, proactive" language around race:
“Some mommies and children have a similar skin color, but other mommies and their children have different skin colors, did you know that?”
“This baby doll has brown skin that people call Black. Your friend Madison is Black, too."
Of course, none of this means that every minute of playtime needs to be an intentional attempt to teach a lesson. You can let the learning happen naturally as kids have fun playing with toys that expose them to different cultures and ideas. The act of imaginary play can be a powerful tool in itself, licensed clinical social worker Dyann Avila explains. "As a clinician that serves a diverse community of families, and as a parent of color, I believe that the power of play itself is the venue for promoting compassion and cultural humility," she says.
All the toys below were chosen because they're exceptionally fun and unique. (You'd want them in your kid's toybox even if they weren't going to teach them something valuable.) And don't stop with your own child's collection. Turn to this list when you need a birthday present for a little friend, or consider donating one of these diverse toys to a local library or day care.
We only include products that have been independently selected by Romper's editorial team. However, we may receive a portion of sales if you purchase a product through a link in this article.
1. Olli Ella Dinkum Doll
"It's important for kids to have dolls that look like them so that they feel a sense of belonging within the world," Aman tells Romper. "Dolls of different ethnicities are especially helpful for white children so that families can help build awareness of race."
Available in a range of skin tones, Olli Ella's Dinkum Dolls are gender neutral, 100% cotton, and absolutely adorable. Each doll comes with an interchangeable unisex outfit designed to fit all Dinkums.
2. Clicques Heart Girls Peg Dolls
For the month of June, Rose & Rex is donating 10% of sales from its "bestsellers" collection to The Bank Street College of Education Center on Culture, Race and Equity. These handmade magnetic peg dolls are made from "high-quality European hornbeam and hand-painted with child-safe paints and varnishes," according to the Rose & Rex site, and come in house-shaped boxes.
3. 'Never Forget A Face' Matching Game
This memory game features images of 24 children from all over the globe. In addition to helping little ones with memory skills and pattern recognition, it also helps familiarize them with how people MAY look AND DRESS in different parts of the world. This game is specifically recommend by Rebecca Bigler, Ph.D., a developmental psychologist and Professor Emeritx of Psychology whose research focuses on children's racial attitudes.
"Parents or guardians cannot just play the game and be silent about the topic of race," Bigler tells Romper. "These activities present perfect opportunities to talk with children about different forms of diversity, especially race and ethnic diversity."
4. "Children Around the World" Wooden Figures
These 17 wooden figures of children in a traditional and non-traditional dress also help introduce kids to customs and traditions from around the world.
5. Paper Dolls
These gorgeous paper dolls from family-owned toy store Kido in Chicago are made by artist Adrienne Brown David. Celebrating diverse skin tones and hair styles, each doll comes with a clothing set that either includes a pocket tee, skirt, and dress, or a pocket tee, shorts, and a Henley tee shirt.
You can follow "artist, wife and homeschooling mama of a clan of four ladies" Adrienne Brown David on Instagram to see more of her beautiful work.
6. Family Builders
With over 2000 unique combinations possible, your little one can build families of any and all colors, genders, and size with these wooden and metallic blocks. There are cards included urging children to make families that don't resemble their own, making this set a great tool for starting a conversation about diversity, equity, and love.
7. Baby Stella Brown Doll
The Baby Stella dolls from Manhattan Toy come in a range of shades (you can even customize your own doll), and have lifelike toes, bellybuttons, and round baby tummies to make them extra realistic... and extra cute.
8. Future Doctor Puzzle
Puzzle Huddle was started by a couple with three young children who believe "that all children should be reflected in a variety of products," per the brand's website. Puzzle Huddle depicts people of color graduating from college, working as news anchors, doctors, veterinarians, and astronauts. The puzzles come in varying sizes ranging from 15 pieces for toddlers all the way up to 100 pieces.
You can also follow the Puzzle Huddle family on Instagram.
9. Crayons For All Skin Tones
These crayons come in "just about all the colors that people do," according to the brand website, so your kid's artwork can be as diverse as the world around them.
10. Diverse DUPLOs
This set includes 16 DUPLO figures that give kids a chance to explore the idea of different kinds of families. Even the fact that the set includes equal numbers of white, black, and brown figures will help begin to build a sense of equity.
11. A Coding, Sky-Diving Action Figure
Ruby Rails is an awesome action figure who can parachute and write software, maybe even at the same time. More than just a doll, Ruby comes with an instruction manual that details how to set up her parachute and craft her coding bag, which gets kids building, problem-solving, and using their imaginations.
The Black Toy Store is also a great place to find toys from Black-owned businesses.
12. A Handmade Doll
This gorgeous handmade doll is made from soft linen and linen-like materials, and it's filled with a non-allergenic plush material. The dolls come in a variety of sizes in varying outfits, plus you can buy outfits separately, including this amazing giraffe onesie. And the company is pretty amazing, too: Mother-daughter duo Cynthia Watkins and Kathryn Burnett started HarperIman in 2017, according to PopSugar, when they "found that dolls of color are underrepresented. There aren't many choices, and the ones available do not accurately represent our different skin tones and hair textures," they said. "Our children are left playing with and trying to identify with dolls that look nothing like them. We wanted to change that."
13. A Game That Promotes Helping
In this game, instead of matching two cards that look identical, kids pull a card from the "helping bag" and match it to the person who needs the help. For example, a flashlight from the helping bag belongs with the little boy who is afraid of the dark, and the umbrella goes with the girl who is stuck in the rain. The illustrations feature a diverse set of characters, and the game helps to build empathy and children's ability to intuit the needs of others and act accordingly.
14. A Doll With Natural Hair
The Fresh Dolls company was created by Dr. Lisa, a former professor turned children's book author who pivoted after reading about a study during which an African American girl said a white doll was prettier than [her] a brown doll. "I didn’t think the brown doll’s skin was pretty because it is nasty just like mine," the little girl said, according to the Fresh Dolls site.
This beautiful 18-inch doll has curly, natural hair. The line also includes boy dolls and smaller dolls about the size of Barbies.
15. A Tuk Tuk
Toys don't necessarily have to feature faces or bodies to promote diversity. "Instead of plain cars, how about a Tuk Tuk?" Lilah Givens, owner of Made You Look toy store in Portland, Oregon tells Romper. (A Tuk Tuk, also known as an "auto rickshaw," according to TripSavvy, is an inexpensive mode of public transportation in some countries.) "Imaginative kitchen [and] food play is a favorite for kids and I often see it as an opportunity to highlight foods from diverse cultures." You could opt for a wooden sushi set, for example, or a globe to get kiddos visualizing the vastness of the world.
16. Ribbons For Black & Brown Hair
The Melanin Magic ribbon wands were developed with a black photographer for a photo shoot celebrating Black children, Ruth Rau, founder of toy store Mouse Loves Pig, tells Romper. They can be used for kids or dolls, and Rau adds that $2 from every ribbon wand purchase goes directly to an organization called Brown Babes Rep Too, which is dedicated to raising awareness of racial diversity in advertising.
Something as simple as a ribbon that matches a kid's hair can have amazing confidence-boosting effects. "When you hear a child exclaim, 'this ribbon looks like me!' you can hear how important and how affirming it is for them to have toys that [look like them]," Rau says.
17. A Subscription STEAM Box
The Brown Toy Box is a STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, and math) box specifically designed with Black children in mind. This is a monthly subscription box, but you can also shop for individual toys and books.
Black workers represent just 7% of the U.S. high-tech workforce, and only 3% of the total Silicon Valley workforce, per reporting done by Fortune in 2018. The Brown Toy Box aims to be a step in bridging that gap. "We are intentional about curated our boxes and marketplace in a manner that helps parents and educators easily source toys, books, games and hand-on projects that help children to see themselves represented in STEAM," the brand says on its website.
18. Party Supplies
No party is complete without decorations, but it can unfortunately be very difficult to find party supplies that feature diverse characters. Enter Craft My Occasion, party supplies that were created by a mother and woman of color, Lynette Abbott, for children of color. You'll find mermaid options, a Supergirl and Superboy themed supplies, plus apparel and seasonal options like Valentine's Day cards.
19. A Dollhouse Family
These figurines depict a a modern family (just check out those sweet headphones on the son's head). No house is complete without people to fill its rooms, and if you're still on the hunt for a dollhouse, Pottery Barn Kids has some amazing options (that I wish I lived in).
20. A Soccer Playing Doll
Male dolls are unfortunately hard to come by, but this Götz Dylan doll is the perfect playmate for any other 18-inch doll (like American Girl or Target's Our Generation line) that your kid may already have. Dylan comes with a gym bag and a soccer ball, and his hair can be styled, brushed, and even washed.
21. A Dollhouse Family
This sweet little family is all ready to move into your kid's dollhouse: Mom, Dad, Sister, and Brother... all "made from recycled rubber wood and coated with a non-toxic finish," according to the product description (and those bright colors are made from vegetable dye).
22. A Plush Mermaid
This soft mermaid is made from Peruvian cotton, and she makes an excellent baby gift, introducing diversity into a child's toys from day one. This also comes in a rattle version. Rose & Rex selects a charity each month to donate a portion of sales to, and this month they're giving 10% to The Bank Street College of Education Center on Culture, Race and Equity.
23. A Ballerina Fairy
This plush ballerina fairy is sure to be a hit. Because she's not based on any one famous character, "she’s defined by your child’s imagination," per the Rose & Rex website. And who doesn't love sparkly wings and a tutu? This doll is a bestseller, so you may want to add her to your cart before she sells out.
24. A Subscription Box That Teaches About The World
A subscription box that teaches littles ones about a country and its culture each month, each installment includes items from the featured country (past boxes have been Jamaica, Ghana, China and more) including crafts, games, puzzles, language skills, recipes, and books. You also have the option to buy a single box if you want to check it out before subscribing (ages 4 through 10).
25. A Handmade Waldorf Doll
From Bella Luna's line of European Käthe Kruse Waldorf Dolls, Miyu (like all Waldorf toys) was created to "intentionally leave room for a child's imagination," per the Bella Luna website. Her expression can be interpreted as happy, sad, sleepy, or whatever else your little one wants it to be. Made by hand in Europe of 100% natural materials.
26. A Sweet Trio Of Friends
Harper, Freddie, and Ollie are the perfect trio of Playdate Pals (available for $25 each). Dolls, outfits, and companions can all be tossed in the washer and dryer (which means you can actually take these playdate pals to a playdate and not worry about them getting ruined).
Dyann Avila, LCSW-S, Lead Licensed Clinical Therapist No Éstas Solo Counseling Program, Maternal Mental Health Services
Rebecca Bigler, Ph.D., a developmental psychologist and Professor Emeritx of Psychology whose research focuses on children's racial attitudes
Han Ren, Ph.D., licensed psychologist, licensed specialist in school psychology