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Children, Toys, and Media

Course Number: YC326-BR

YC/SOJE 326 -- Children, Toys, and Media: Term Project

Step one of the assignment:

  • Choose a consumer product/brand target at children or youth. Describe the product.

Step two of the assignment:

  • I would need to consider what kind of analysis I want to engage with for my product. For example:
    • Marketing
    • Play
    • Historical
    • Gender
    • Culture
  • Based on the type of analysis I wanted to engage with, I would then need to find three external scholarly sources, as well as referring to two course reading.
    • The easiest place to start is with the course readings and making sure I've read those first.
    • Conveniently, the syllabus is divided into different sections by theme, making it easy to target the course readings most likely to be helpful to me.
    • Once I have read the course readings I will then be in a better position to search for and identify my three external scholarly sources.
      • You want to select sources that are going to fit well together and possibly inform different aspects of your analysis.
      • Library research is an iterative process. You find some sources, in this case, course readings, read those sources and then use the knowledge from those sources to inform your search strategies.

What is a scholarly source?

This library guide outlines some of the key differences between popular, trade and scholarly sources.

Popular Scholarly or Trade - University of Texas at Austin

Search tips

For anyone interested in conducting a historical analysis I would start with the history databases. The history subject guide would be an excellent starting point. America History & Life includes coverage of the United States and Canada from prehistory to the present. Historical Abstracts provides coverage of world history (excluding Canada and the United States) from 1450 to the present.

For anyone interested in conducting an analysis around play, gender or culture, the sociology subject guide and I would recommend starting with Sociological Abstracts. The psychology databases in the psychology subject guide may also be helpful.

Another research strategy to consider, if you are researching a very specific product, is to conduct a broad sweep in multiple databases. The best place to start for this kind of search would be the Interdisciplinary subject guide.

Creating keyword search strategies

Main concepts

To create effective keyword search strategies it is best to identify the main ideas represented by what you are researching. For my example search strategy below, the main concepts are determined by the product I identified and how it functions (the purpose it serves). I focused on an educational toy, which is intended to help children learn early math skills. Therefore the main concepts are educational toy and math.


Keywords are the words you think everyone else would use to find information if they were researching the same topic. This is just a starting point, other terms and combinations will reveal themselves as I do my research.

Using AND/OR to connect your keywords

To search effectively in the databases you will need to connect your keywords using AND/OR.

AND is used to connect the keywords that capture the different concepts of your research question or topic. AND narrows your search: the more ANDs you have connecting your keywords the fewer records you will pull up in your search, because AND tells the catalogue or database that both keywords must appear in the record for it to be found.

Example: toys AND education* AND math*

The * is the symbol of truncation in many databases. It instructs the database to search for variant spelling after that point so math* searches for math, maths, mathematical. 

OR expands your search. The more ORs you have connecting your keywords the more records yo will pull up in your search. OR tells the search tool that either of your keywords can appear in the record for it to be found. You use OR to connect the keywords that represent the same concept.

Example: (toys OR games)

An example search strategy:

Depending on the consumer product I choose, it is possible that I may be able to search specifically for academic articles analyzing that item. For example, I will be able to find academic articles about barbie dolls, because Barbie is a well known toy with a long history, but for most toys/products I will have to search for articles on a higher/broader level. I probably won't be successful in finding academic journal articles, in most instances, if I search on the name of the product directly, but I will be able to search on the larger category the product falls under.

To create this guide I decided to explore what the current "hot toys" might be. A Google search is going to be the most effective search tool to find out which toys are considered hot items, becasue popular magazines publish reviews for consumer products. Popular sources also have a faster publication cycle and focus on current trends. One of the websites I pulled up was Good Housekeeping, and I explored the website's product reviews under the subcategory of educational toys.

Good Housekeeping 25 Best Educational Toys - Learning Toys for Kids 2020

One of the toys they list is the LeapFrog Number Lovin' Oven. This toy is supposed to be effective for helping children learn early math skills such as counting and fractions, by counting slices of toy food or by setting the oven's temperature.

I am not going to be able to find academic articles about this toy specifically, but it might be possible to find articles about educational toys and math. However, this is such a focused topic it is best to do a broad sweep in multiple databases. With this in mind I went to the Interdisciplinary subject guide.

I clicked on the Proquest databases (all) link. At the time of creating this guide, this means I am searching in 41 different databases at once. I tried a few different search strategies and this one was the most successful.

I typed the keyword toys into the first search box and I changed the drop down menu on the right hand side to "all subjects & Indexing -- SU" In the second search box I typed education* and I left the drop down menu at the default setting. "anywhere except full text --NOFT" and then I added a third row, buy clicking on the link "add a row" under the AND on the left hand side of the search screen. In the third search box I typed math* and left the drop down menu at the default setting. i also checked the box to limit my search to peer reviewed journals and this left me with 28 records. 

For anyone who would like a further explanation regarding peer reviewed journals, please visit the Finding Scholarly Articles tutorial page.

The low number of records after searching across multiple databases is an indication of how focused this topic is, and this is exactly when a multiple database search works best. If you have a specific topic, it is often effective to do a broad sweep across a number of resources.

The following record is very promising because it ties in well with how the toy I've selected functions and discusses the potential benefits of spatial manipulation during play activities and the development of math skills. Therefore there is a close alignment between the research conducted in the study and the toy I've chosen. You should do your best to find articles that are as closely aligned to your research interest as possible.

Early Maternal Spatial Support for Toddlers and Math Skills in Second Grade

Ribeiro, Luisa A; Casey, Beth; Dearing, Eric; Nordahl, Kristin Berg; Aguiar, Cecília; et al. Journal of Cognition and Development Vol. 21, Iss. 2, (2020): 282-311. DOI:10.1080/15248372.2020.1717494

The aim of this study is to investigate whether maternal spatial support during two types of joint manipulative toy play tasks with 2-year-old children was longitudinally associated with math screening test scores in second grade. The interaction between spatial support and maternal education was explored as well. We also investigated predictions of a teacher rating of math performance at second grade, although these effects were less robust. Data were drawn from BONDS (The Behavior Outlook Norwegian Developmental Study), a longitudinal study of Norwegian children and their families. Participants were a subsample of 932 mothers and their 2-year-olds. Mothers were asked to help their children solve both a puzzle task and a shape-color sorting task. Mothers' spatial support included spatial language, gestures, and placement of objects. Results showed that higher levels of spatial support during mother-child interaction tasks at 2 years of age was significantly associated with fewer math difficulties in second grade. This was the case for a puzzle task (a task associated with spatial visualization skills), but not for a shape-color sorting task (a task associated with shape and color feature discriminations). Conclusions are drawn with respect to the importance of identifying optimal parental spatial strategies associated with better math outcomes. These findings on parental facilitation of spatial skills during joint early play may be useful for future training interventions directed at parents of children at risk for poor math skills.


If you would like assistance with your searches please contact me using my wlu email account 

Page Owner: Irene Tencinger

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Last Updated: September 19, 2023 1:46pm