Advocacy, Childhood Joy and Preservation

Getting My Mind Into Studio (Disney Stole My Studio) Part II of Studying Implementing Studio in Preschool

The benefit of studio time for children is that it provides an intimate and open environment for the children to explore and create their own thoughts and ideas. Don’t get me wrong – there have been times where the children floor me with what they discuss and create in studio. But last week- Disney stole my studio! Or more rightly so it stole the children’s studio.

disney stole

My studio scribbles while I sat back and let Disney take over.

We are a C-free environment (commercial free). And of course no matter how much we try to keep it at bay it sneaks into the school. A Disney princess shirt, a Star Wars trooper, a Hello kitty blanket. But for the most part our families do fairly well with it. But this month I have seen Disney take over the classroom – anyone else notice all the children role playing Frozen in their classroom? While sometimes I see how some of these influences benefit the children – empowering them to belt out songs at the top of their lungs when they may have never before- I also see the double edge of the sword. It stabs right through the children’s independent identity and creativity. Let me tell you how…
The children have loved the concept of a Giant for over a year now. Last Spring they even threw our so called imaginary “Giant” a birthday party. Well, the past few weeks they were asking for him back. So I staged an area with a provocation and later that week brought a group of interested children into the studio to finish designing and creating a “giant”.

disney stole 2

But the collaboration kept hitting a wall- “that is not how the giant story goes!” some of the children were saying.

What did they mean by this?  Who’s story was telling them how to design their giant?  Why could it not be their own?
“Mickey is scared of him and I don’t want to make a scary Giant.” was one debate
and after 30 minutes of planning we finally started creating a hump for the giant’s back that was the children’s own original idea and not Disney’s.

Prior to creation we sat there discussing Disney characters and stories for the majority of the studio – Mickey, Turbo, Giants, Frozen.  It all came out and the children felt like Disney owned those ideas so they could not create their own.  The Giant had to fit the story they knew from Disney.  I knew what story they were referring to – I had it myself as a little girl. The title does not come to mind but the details of Mickey meeting a giant and tricking him by squeezing water from a stone/slab of cheese are fresh in my mind. Pretty impressionable! It is not that they can connect or recall this story that upsets me. That is a great literacy skill – we love when children do it with books. It upsets me that the children are so enamored by Disney that Disney gets the upper hand. It dominates over their own ideas! They can’t possibly use their own idea because it is not right because it is not how Disney portrayed it! It was stripping the children of their own power during creative activities. That is the heartbreaker!  So even though the children were saying “I don’t want to make that Giant” and I continued to say “you don’t have to” – “your own Giant” – “this is your Giant” – they were trapped in Disney’s box.

When we finally got out of Disney’s box and started creating the children’s ideas Disney still kept sneaking in.  One little boy was drawing a map for where the Giant would travel to after we built him.  “I want him to go fast like a snail” he said.  “Fast like a snail?” I asked, “I thought snails were slow”.  Another little one chimed in “Yeah, they are slow and slimy”.  “No, fast like Turbo” he defended.  So now Disney not only dominates how the children create but how they view and make meaning of the world around them – and apparently thanks to Disney snails are on speed.

Ok, I get it!  This is a little extreme.  I am ranting!  It is a little overboard.  I remember enjoying Disney myself as a child.  I probably will let my future children be semi-exposed to it as well.  But, there is a reason as a preschool we are a commercial free environment and that children should be protected from the mudslide of commercialism and media.  Yet, commercialism still comes into our realm.  The smallest details influence them and it changes them.  They use this information from films, toys, characters, etc., to dictate and script their play, to inform their ideas, to decide how to engage socially, to build their ideas of what image is.  And frankly some of what our children are taught to value is less than supportive and affirmative.

Diane Levin, child advocate/educator and Wheelock College Professor is the founder of The Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood (  This advocacy group has inspired a  movement that has helped fight against the negative effects of commercialism on children and educate the population on how commercialism impacts children.  The website provides great resources for exploring how Disney and other commercialized big dogs impact childhood (stifling creativity, gender stereotypes, character development, etc.).  One particular article that connects well with my studio dilemma is “The Commercialization of Toys and Play”  (

I am not asking you to quit Disney.  I am asking you to think about it and to quit Disney in the classroom.  I am begging you to reconsider how Disney and any other commercialized toy enters your children’s lives.  Will you limit it?  Will you discuss the challenges and problems it presents with your child?  Will you be commercial-free or commercial aware?

Let’s teach children to value their own ideas!

Food for Thought (Additional Links):


The argument I am so tired of and never finished with…

Often I am asked or hear:
But when do they learn?
What about academics?
At what point do you do Kindergarten readiness?

It makes me scream inside!  I want to explode.  But I smile and politely defend play.  They are learning!  We are getting them ready!  This is academic!

You see – I think there are three schools of thought on this:  There are the passion driven players, there are the people who don’t believe in the value of play but they fully support skill and academic development, and then there is this third group that has one foot in each glass.  Can you guess which glass I float in?  Yeah that is right – I fully drink the PLAY kool-aid.  And why?  Because PLAY is LEARNING!  You can not separate the learning from play when authentic play is happening!  Nope!  If it was a jar full of sand and you sifted through it – the grains would be the same.  You couldn’t sort it out and say “oh please don’t learn while you play”.  But the unfortunate part is you can divide play and academics.  You can sit a child down and train them to perform academically – sans play.  The ironic part is when we choose to do this we are robbing children of the opportunity of quality brain development, meaningful learning, and choice.

glass play

Brain Development –

If you don’t buy that PLAY has cognitive value then do your own research on how PLAY effects the brain.  Research shows that learning in a meaningful and hands-on path of exploration sticks with us.  When we are a part of internalizing learning through play we make connections in our brains and activate/forge synapses.  This is compared to learning information for performance.  Children learn to spit out the ABCs and are praised for their success.  It has no meaning to them besides “Mommy claps” for me or “Teacher says good job” and so I will keep doing it.  The meaning is not in truly knowing the letters and what they symbolize but instead in memorizing and performing.!po=21.1538

Meaningful Learning –

Children are pressured to learn their ABCs and count to 100 for Kindergarten.  We sit children down for a screening for K and we test to see if they can count or identify numbers 1 -100.  But many of the children that can do this have no meaning to the skill.  The value is lacking.  While a child may count to 100 he really may not have mastered the concept or the meaning for how many 55 or 92 actually is; I work with children that gain a deep meaning of numeracy through play.  One little boy loves trucks!  He plays in the sand with them, rolls them down the slide, brings books to my lap for reading about them, and creates them with art materials.  Every time, without skipping a beat he knows that he needs 4 wheels for his big “Monster” truck.  He will count them out and has a deep connection with the concept of 4 wheels – pink wheels, circle wheels, big wheels, etc.  But he always truly knows how to count out 4 wheels for his projects.  While at the grocery store he knows that Mama told him there are 6 muffins in the container – enough for him, Daddy, and Mama – with extras to spare.  He understands this concept.  While he may not count with rote memory to 100 he has a much more meaningful connection to numbers and numeracy.  All of this gained through play and social engagements!  He owns these concepts!  He has made meaning of his world around him and is not wrapped up in just another skill of the day.  When skills are gained during real experiences explored through play the learning becomes meaningful and rich vs. just another “splinter skill”.

But somewhere we have learned that a worksheet and skills driven tasks provide meaning and evidence for skills.  We have learned as a society to value that rote memory and recall is more important than deep and connected understanding.  Even educated practitioners in the Early Childhood field feel as if they need to provide play for children but then supplement academic readiness with structured lessons- these are the people with one foot in each glass, PLAY as an addictive :(!  The truth is 20 minutes of play is not enough and learning is stifled when we shorten play time to tutor children in small groups or individualized academic skill lessons.  So why do educators bend to the pressures?  Do they not know what glass of kool-aid they drink or do they have one foot in each glass?  I am excited for young children when they are given the opportunity to become a part of a school community.  I am heart broken when they are made to attend programs that don’t understand that play is learning and that these two are not separate occurrences in preschool.  I don’t want to hear:  They get a 20 minute PLAY time and 20 minutes on learning activities or I will let them play now but next year I need to send them somewhere that they can gain their foundation in academics.  I want the world to see that PLAY is the fiber to our being and the key to learning.

Choice –

When my Dad wants to learn how to assemble something he does not refer to written directions.  He uses diagrams and pictorials to study the composition, tests it out with his hands, and listens to a fellow expert explain the steps of the process.  He selects the avenue that best suits him as a learner and for his own personal success.  We all do this as learners.  We decide if we want to lean on National Geographic, Popular Mechanics, Time Magazine, YouTube, Google, Mentor-ship with fellow professionals, etc.  for information.  As adults we are a part of that choice.  So why do we not wish the same for our children?  Why wouldn’t we give them ownership over their learning!

Why play?

Play is for everyone!  Everywhere!  Why do we need play and the importance of PLAY for children and adults?  Find out more:

So i beg you!  Do your research!  Compare PLAY to academic based lessons.  See how rich learning is during PLAY!  You may find yourself drinking from a new glass!


This blog was inspired by a great blog- that is a must read: