By Jamie Gumbrecht, CNN
(CNN) - Think back to the age before GoldieBlox, before gender-neutral Easy-Bake ovens, before “My Princess Boy" or “It Gets Better.” Way before apps for infants, TV networks for toddlers or even "Schoolhouse Rock" on Saturday mornings.
That’d bring you to the early 1970s, when an album in a bright pink sleeve was passed among teachers, parents, librarians and kids. It was called “Free to Be … You and Me,” and record players around the country spun songs such as “William’s Doll,” “Parents are People” and “It’s All Right to Cry.”
When it debuted in 1972, there was nothing else like it - at least, nothing so popular. It was feminist and multicultural; an early childhood education in empathy; multimedia before anybody used the word. There was the gold record album, a best-selling book and in 1974, an Emmy- and Peabody-winning TV special that starred its creator, Marlo Thomas, “and friends” - literally, her formidable list of famous pals, including Harry Belafonte, Alan Alda, Diana Ross, Roberta Flack, Carl Reiner, Rosey Grier and young Michael Jackson.
More than 40 years later, there's nostalgia in its opening chords and a legacy that still courses through classrooms.
“Children memorized every lyric and asked their parents and teacher to play the record over and over again,” Letty Cottin Pogrebin, a Ms. magazine co-founder, wrote in the 2012 book "When We Were Free to Be: Looking Back at a Children's Classic and the Difference It Made."
“It challenged teachers to face up to their entrenched, often unacknowledged, gender biases and to cast a more critical eye on the books they were assigning, whom they called on most often in class, whom they allowed to dominate the block corner or the dress-up box.”
By Laurel Bongiorno, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Laurel Bongiorno is director of the master’s degree program in early childhood education at Champlain College in Burlington, Vermont. She is working on a book on the value of play in early childhood development.
(CNN) - Parents want to buy the best toys for their children - the educational toys that will make them grow faster, read earlier and solve math problems faster.
Toy manufacturers often market high-priced toys that play by themselves (no child needed!), are connected to movies and television shows (no imagination needed!) or have just one purpose in mind. Once played with, they go in the closet.
On this last weekend before the Christmas gift-giving commences, parents should go back to basics when toy shopping for their young children from birth to age 8. Children are complex people who need holistic opportunities for development, learning, health and happiness.
Blocks, dramatic play clothes, art supplies, messy play opportunities, books and games are the stuff they need for the holidays. And, parents don’t have to break the bank to afford them. The local dollar stores and thrift stores have many of these materials.
Consider a 4-year-old building a highway with the blocks. She sorts, sequences, maps, plans, predicts, estimates, counts and compares. The 7-year-old might create bridges and ramps, using basic physics concepts. Blocks are open-ended materials that the children don’t tire of and retire to the closet when they are done. Parents can add to block-building fun by supplying play props such as cars, dinosaurs, animals and many other options. Math isn’t the only benefit derived from blocks; children use their small motor skills, build their vocabulary, play cooperatively with others and gain self-control and patience.