Greta Pennell pursues study of toy design in opportunities around the globe

Greta Pennell and her husband Jim Pennell, professor of sociology, presented a paper at the International Toy Research Association (ITRA) World Congress in Paris, France in 2018.

Greta Pennell at the International Toy Research Association (ITRA) World Congress in Paris, France in 2018.

Greta Pennell, professor of teacher education at the University of Indianapolis, has devoted her life’s work to the service of children. That focus, combined with a passionate commitment to service-learning, drives her research and teaching, and has inspired her to pursue professional development opportunities around the world.

Pennell was selected to participate in the 18th International Symposium, Workshop and Exhibition on Toy Design and Inclusive Play in Berlin, Germany, in January 2019.

Pennell also was recently honored with a research fellowship at The Strong National Museum of Play and was elected vice president of the International Toy Research Association at the World Congress in Paris, France, during the summer of 2018, where she presented a paper with her husband Jim Pennell, professor of sociology. In August 2018, she was honored with the Teaching in the Core Award at the Faculty-Staff Institute for her first-year seminar, “Doing Gender in Toyland,” where she uses her expertise on gender identity, toy advertising and conceptual change processes to model the research process for students.

Pennell will be attending the Berlin symposium for the first time, and is one of just 20 participants selected to join a worldwide network of scholars, designers and educators dedicated to toy design and inclusive play.  

“The opportunity to work closely with such a diverse, imaginative and interdisciplinary team and to be part of a UNESCO-sponsored project is truly exciting,” said Pennell, who expressed gratitude to the the Sabbatical and Grants Committee for awarding her a sabbatical for the 2018-19 academic year.  

Through her work at the Berlin symposium, Pennell will focus on expanding her understanding of inclusive education, play and toys from intergenerational, intercultural and global perspectives. With her newly-gained insights, Pennell plans to develop new strategies to use playful learning in her teaching with pre- and in-service educators, including a new course planned for fall 2019 entitled “Developing Human Potential” as well as her “Doing Gender in Toyland” seminar.  

“I expect that I will be better able to support and foster my UIndy students’ ability to incorporate this kind of approach in their own classrooms and empower them to become creators and designers dedicated to expanding inclusive play and learning opportunities for all students and families, regardless of their ability status,” Pennell explained.

Students are already noting the benefits of Pennell’s approach to the first-year seminar. Kaitlyn Betz ’19 (exercise science) said the class made a huge impact on her outlook of freshman year.

“Many of my other courses were very cut-and-dry textbook definition courses. This FYS class allowed me to think outside of the box and gave me multiple opportunities to incorporate my knowledge learned outside of the classroom,” Betz said. She explained an assignment to visit a toy store to examine how girls’ and boys’ toys were marketed differently.

Pennell explained that as cultural artifacts, toys are imbued with symbolic content and meaning. “If play is the business of childhood, then toys, as one of the most ubiquitous aspects of children’s lives, serve as tools of the trade, helping socialize children into future roles,” she said.

Even small details can send powerful messages about what is and isn’t possible or appropriate depending on a child’s gender, age, nationality, race or ability status, Pennell noted. “This is why toy design that expands opportunities and possibilities, opens doors to new worlds and allows children to direct their own play is critically important.

Written by Sara Galer, Communications Manager, University of Indianapolis. Contact newsdesk@uindy.edu with your campus news.

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