Knees Up Like Unicorns: Free Play, Girls, and Barbie

{Disclosure: This post contains sponsored content from Barbie (TM) }

Gwyneth likes to discuss the human brain. And high school for dogs.

Gwyneth likes to discuss the human brain. And high school for dogs.

What happens inside that magical, precious space of free play? That layer of minutes when a boy or girl exists suspended between toys of the real world and a universe of their creating.

Can you recall what that felt like? Are you still able to picture who you were?

Do you remember sitting on the floor of your room imagining a world in which your stories ruled?

Do you remember when asked to clean up your toys the idea of untangling your pretend world from the real one would bring an audible gasp from your lips?

The power of free play is that a child’s imagination becomes the vehicle that can take her anywhere and craft her into anyone. It is a force that transforms us into anything…….

A neuroscience professor, who explains why a dog’s brain is not as developed as a human brain. (You guys. Because there is no high school for dogs.)

A veterinarian whose standard feline wellness exam comes with the question, “Can your cat fly?”

A soccer coach who encourages her team during drills to get their “Knees up! Like a unicorn!”

A museum tour guide who introduces guests to a one-year-old Triceratops named Peter. Sally, the T-Rex, is one thousand, two million, two hundred and fifty two years old.

A businesswoman who recently closed a deal in New York. And Transylvania.

Barbie asked, “What happens when girls are free to imagine they can be anything?”

Are you watching who your daughter becomes when she plays? Are you listening to the confidence and conviction in her voice when she lives out these roles? Are you amazed by her unshakable knowledge she can become anything?

Too often people underestimate girls when they play with their dolls. Is it all homemakers, fashion shows, and weddings? I asked some of my PPBB Parents what they have observed while watching their children play with their toys and Barbies, and who their children became during free play:

– Laurie said that thirty years ago when her daughters played with their Barbies they saw the dolls as professionals, like a pediatrician, dentist, ophthalmologist, or teacher. 

– Stephanie, who is fighting Breast Cancer right now with chemo (and fighting like a champ!), said her daughter has a bald Ella doll from Mattel that she treasures. “Sometimes they are kids from school, sometime they are moms, dads and kids and sometimes they are heroes. They are just a platform to show her creativity.”

– Fatima said her nieces love to pretend to produce and host television talk shows. They would also produce and star in movies. “One of their ‘movies’ had the Barbies go camping in the garden and their pet tortoise was a giant from another land. They even used the night mode on the camera to give special effects to their movies.” Fatima also wanted to point this out – “This was in Pakistan by the way, showing that Barbie truly is loved the world over.”

– Jessica shared that her daughter doesn’t play with Barbie often, but when she plays with them at her grandmother’s home, “[T]hey tend to be in grave danger. Last time, they were in a car accident in the middle of nowhere, and the friends had to work together to survive the crisis and save their injured companion.”

– Erin told me her young daughter (who just became a big sister of twins) “makes hers into superheroes a lot. She loves saving the day. She does a lot of taking them on horseback rides and interacting with other imaginary animals. Playing doctor and pretending they are her patients. After the twins were born, they turned into surgeons and delivered a lot of babies. She and my husband like to pose the dolls and play around with stop motion movies.”

– Sarah said her children enjoy all types of dolls, and when they play they “have a pair of shoes that makes them fly, and they take turns wearing them. They do a lot of shouty rescuing of one another. Often waterfalls are involved, and swimming very intensely.”

– Nicole from Australia said that when her daughter played with Barbies “she would make up rescue scenarios. Like for example, fire fighter barbie would have to go in a space ship with astronaut barbie and fly to a planet to collect some secret ingredient then fly back to earth and use that ingredient to rescue Merida and the other barbies from whatever peril they were in… house fire, earthquake, wild animal attack etc.”

– Jennifer from Canada said her daughter’s Barbies “are usually battling zombies or dinosaurs. They’re kinda badass that way.”

– Diana and Emily both said their children “recreate school relationships in a pretend grown up world.”

For over 56 years, Barbie has inspired imaginations and encouraged girls on their journey to self-discovery. From Mermaid to Movie Star, Pet Vet to Police Officer, Fashionista to Fairy Princess, Barbie continues to celebrate the belief that You Can Be Anything


{Disclosure: This post contains sponsored content from Barbie (TM) }


Melissa headshot 1 fb sizeMelissa Atkins Wardy is a speaker, media consultant, and the author of Redefining Girly: How Parents Can Fight the Stereotyping and Sexualizing of Girlhood, from Birth to Tween. She is the creator and owner of Pigtail Pals & Ballcap Buddies, a company that has been offering empowering apparel and gifts to Full of Awesome kids since 2009

Find her at You can connect with her on Facebook (Pigtail Pals Ballcap Buddies) and Twitter (@PigtailPals) and Pinterest (Pigtail Pals & Ballcap Buddies).