Updated: Apr 21
Using open-ended play with Flockmen
One of these lockdown days, I took out my Flockmen bag and showed it to H., a 2 year-old girl. As I was observing how she interacted with them, I jotted down the first things she said, “They are people. They have no face!”. H was able to abstract the shape and relate it to what she knows about a person: there’s a head, two arms, two legs and a body. This meant that the stylised shape Flockmen designed works well and is intuitive enough for toddlers.
Secondly, H was amused by the lack of face features. As we know, children are particularly focused on details and learn about face features since their infancy (this helps recognise their parents). This meant that Flockmen ticks another box which is open-ended play. Having no facial features means that children must rely on their imagination to create stories with the wooden figures and it’s up to them to decide whether they are happy, sad, young or old.
At this point, the first thing H did was to line up her ten Flockmen so that, “They are holding hands!”. H’s behaviour was telling me she is currently learning through a positioning schema, arranging objects in lines. In fact, H did not notice that the men could stand but was more interested in their arrangement on the table.
Talking about inclusion and diversity
That evening I painted five Flockmen of different colours trying to resemble skin tones. I kept thinking that if H’s figurines were holding hands as a first thing, it meant that her natural instinct was to make them get along and play peacefully. If this inspired any discussion about diversity in her, wouldn’t that be an amazing opportunity to talk about inclusion in a playful manner?
As a matter of fact, the following time I presented the bag of coloured Flockmen to H, she noticed the different nuances and asked me, “Why is this pink? Why is this brown?”. Mission accomplished! This lead into an inspiring conversation about skin colours, diversity and acceptance. We compared the figurines' colours with our skin tones (my skin is much darker than H’s) and concluded that people can be many different colours but that does not prevent them from playing together and holding hands.
Sometimes it takes an open-ended toy like Flockmen to initiate an open-ended discussion to promote diversity.
For further reading on how to create an inclusive classroom, we recommend reading the available resources on The University of Rhode Island website.