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					Toy Stories: Suggestions for Younger Students
This lesson is a companion to the lesson "Toy Stories" for grades 6-12, found online at

1. WARM-UP: (Please note: In order to be prepared for the warm-up, students will need to be told to bring in a favorite toy in
advance of the lesson. These should be toys from their past, not current favorites. They also should be things that can be held
and/or manipulated independently; i.e., not video games.) Start the exercise by sharing a favorite toy from your own childhood
(if the actual toy is not available, you could share a picture; students can do this too). Tell the class when and why this toy was
a favorite for you, then ask each student to do the same.

2. LEARNING WITH THE TIMES: Tell students that the Barbie doll is turning 50 this month (the doll was introduced by Mattel in
March 1959). Read and print out the following excerpts from “Barbie at 50: Unwrinkled and None the Wiser”
( by Mary Jo Murphy. You may need to
preview the words skewered, heady, upheaval, eerie, equanimity, afoot, ensemble, stole, and vintage and provide background
information on Fidel Castro, “The Sound of Music,” President Nixon’s trip to China, Sally Ride and Desert Storm.

        Can’t we just forget for a moment that I once skewered sequins and stuck the loaded pins through your tiny
        plastic earlobes into your tiny empty head? We both turn 50 this month, Barbie, and I propose we celebrate a
        half-century of shared history. You can wear the earrings (my ears aren’t pierced, for some reason). I’ll blow out
        the candles (you remember what happened last time you got too close to flames).

        Those ’60s and ’70s were heady decades for a girl growing up, weren’t they, Barbie? So much social upheaval
        and role changing — it was enough to make your head spin. (I know you can. Stop it.)

        I trace your eerie equanimity in the face of it all straight back to 1959, the year of our birth. Alaska joined the
        union just weeks before we arrived; Hawaii a few months after. It was…the year Fidel Castro took over Cuba
        and “The Sound of Music” opened on Broadway. It was pretty clear from the start that you were more in tune
        with the kind of gal who, like Maria, would sew killer outfits out of loud curtains in a pinch.

        Even in 1959, changes were afoot for women in the world… But you ignored it all.
        This pattern developed throughout the ’60s and the ’70s. When Nixon went to China, you went to Malibu. If a
        happening had no glove-and-handbag ensemble, it didn’t exist for you.

        How did you do it, B? How could you stay cool as a curvy cucumber?

        And yet, there were those quirky exceptions, when you either anticipated the times or acknowledged their
        rougher edges. Astronaut Barbie appeared in 1965, four years before the moon landing. Did Sally Ride have a
        Barbie? She would have been 13 then. And Desert Storm Barbie appeared right after the first Gulf war,

        My mother found my case of your clothes in her basement the other day, Barbie. Among the semi-surviving
        garments was a glamorous calf-length cobalt blue coat she had knitted. Had she snipped a bit of her own mink
        stole, a gift from her mother, to make the collar? She didn’t remember. Perhaps it’s time we donated all that
        vintage gear to Recession Barbie. Mother has moved on to knitting socks for my husband.

        Happy Birthday, Barbie. Now stay well away from the flames.

Discuss the article excerpt, using the following questions as a guide:
    • Whom is the author addressing in this article?
    • What do the author and Barbie have in common?
    • What important historical and cultural events happened in 1959?
    • What other important historical events were commemorated by Barbie dolls?
    • What does she mean when she says that Barbie "ignored it all"?
    • What are some of the things Barbie did instead?
    • What examples does the author give of Barbie being ahead of or with the times?
3. ACTIVITY: Tell the class that they are going to create a toy museum. Have each student research his or her favorite toy and
write text for a placard to be displayed beside it. Hand each student the handout "Toy Stories"
( to guide his or her research. Review the handout
and model the process for students using Barbie as an example. Direct students to the additional resources and archival
material listed below as starting points for their research. Students can find articles published since 1981 by searching the
New York Times Web site. If your school has access to the Proquest Direct database, they can access older articles.

When research is complete and the display is put together, hold a gallery walk so that students can view the whole exhibit.
Then reconvene the class for a wrap-up discussion. Ask: What trends and themes did you notice? How do popular toys seem
to reflect history? How do you see your favorite toys differently after this activity?

4. FOR HOMEWORK OR FUTURE CLASSES: Using Mary Jo Murphy’s article as a model, students write letters addressed to their
favorite toys. You might refer students to these excerpts as good examples where the writer’s voice is especially clear: “We
both turn 50 this month, Barbie, and I propose we celebrate a half-century of shared history. You can wear the earrings (my
ears aren’t pierced, for some reason). I’ll blow out the candles (you remember what happened last time you got too close to
flames). … How did you do it, B? How could you stay cool as a curvy cucumber?” Students should tell the toys what was going
on in the world or in their lives at the time they enjoyed playing with them, and how these events affected their play. They
might also imagine personalities for the toys and describe, as Murphy does, how these toys “reacted” to outside events.

Alternatively or in addition, students design a toy for our time. Students should present their designs to the class with a
rationale that explains why they feel this toy would be popular with children today.

Historical article on Barbie
Historical article on Monopoly
Historical article on Rubik's Cube
Historical article on Beanie Babies
Historical article on Legos

Barbie (Doll)
Children and Youth

The Most Popular Toys in History
A summary article
From Rubber Balls to Barbie Dolls
A History of Baby Toys in America from Random History

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