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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 (http://www.commercialfreechildhood.org/).  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”  (http://www.commercialfreechildhood.org/sites/default/files/toysandplay.pdf).

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!

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