Environmental Education Boring?????

Toys R Us, long thought to be a major cog in the wheel of teaching over-consumption to children, has hit a new low by running a commercial ad mocking environmental education as being boring.  To make matters worse, they used a group of underprivileged children as the backdrop. You see, it is far more important for these kids to have plastic toys than to spend time outdoors and learn about that which supports all life on Earth.

Well, many disagree and are demanding that the corporation pull the ad. I’ll go one step further and ask that the company help fund a reputable environmental education group, particularly one that focuses on urban and underprivileged children.

I encourage you to sign the petition at http://www.credomobilize.com/petitions/tell-toys-r-us-to-pull-anti-environmental-education-ad. Our children deserve much better from a company that claims to have their welfare in mind. Thank you.

AN UPDATE: I emailed Toys R Us regarding this and received an answer back 30 minutes later. Although the message was addressed to the Board and Executive Administration, the reply came back from what appears to be some sort of Help Desk, given the anonymity of the respondent and the case number. See below for what I feel is a very inadequate response.

Dear Mary Jo Graham:

Thank you for contacting The “R” Us Family. We appreciate your input and opinion regarding our advertising.

It is never our intention to disparage or single out any group in our advertising. We work very hard to find snippets of every day life to highlight in a manner that appeals to our customers in a light-hearted way. We are very sorry that you find this particular advertisement objectionable and will take your concerns into consideration as we develop advertising in the future.

Thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts regarding our recent commercial. We will be sure to pass your comments on to our Marketing team for review. This particular version of the commercial ran for a brief time on television and is no longer on the air. We value your feedback and thank you again for reaching out to us.

If you have any further questions or concerns, please feel free to contact our offices at 1-800-ToysRUs (1-800-869-7787). Anyone who answers may be able to assist you. We apologize for any inconvenience that this may cause you.

Thank you once again, Mary Jo Graham, for contacting the “R” Us family, and we look forward to serving you in the future.

Case # 131108-003191


Derek H. NT7M
The “R” Us Team

28 thoughts on “Environmental Education Boring?????

  1. Thank you for sharing this important info. I am outraged by this ad. It undermines the efforts of thousands of hard working teachers and park employees. I have shared it with our Facebook group of 4,000 and anywhere else I can think of.

  2. Thank you for posting this and starting the discussion. I think it’s good to give feedback to a company that is challenging the value of environmental education. Perhaps, going beyond the disappointment in Toys R Us, we could use this commercial as an opportunity to ask (and answer) some tough questions about EE? I personally feel that there is some validity to the commercial’s criticism of a fairly typical field trip (at least those in my childhood). Am I alone in remembering the leaf identification checklists? The “what did you learn at the zoo” quizzes?

    Is some EE boring? Heavy handed? In my experience, yes. This is NOT to say that the antidote to that boredom is to pander to a child’s natural interest in free toys. But let’s discuss how we ourselves came to value our connection to nature and what were the most formative experiences in establishing that connection.

    • Pete – certainly some environmental educators may be poor at delivery but why single out just this focus? Can’t it be said about anyone in the teaching profession? I propose that if the ad’s setting was an elementary teacher in a classroom depicitng a “snippet of every day life…highlighted in a manner that appeals to Toys R Us customers in a light-hearted way” the outcry would be enormous. I think the concern most people have over this is that the commercial white-washes all environmental ed as boring AND unimportant. Additionally is also seems to say that underprivileged children are better served by mass consumerism than by identifying with the natural world. That’s the message I got.

  3. What I feel is as much a problem as the commercial is that we don’t have one to combat the issue. It is always easy to find fault, but where is your answer to the issue at hand. I do agree with the concerns of a ‘bait and switch’…..so why don’t you come up with one that reverses the tactic?

    • Dave – I have years of experience in environmental education and cannot remember any instance among myself or my colleagues in teaching children that duplicates what is represented in the commercial. Perhaps I am not following your reference to reversing the tactic, however.

      • Dave’s approach is a brilliant one, and something that will truly promote change. It is one thing to bash the commercial for its message, it is another thing to go the extra mile and either come up with an alternative commercial for Toys R Us or better yet come up with a commercial from the EE side of things to counter the message. Given the age of social media we live in, this would be a huge opportunity to capitalize on the widespread discussions surrounding Toys R Us’s controversial ad.

  4. Urrrrh, depressing, depressing, depressing – the ad and the corporate-speak reply. I suppose they didn’t set out to specifically denigrate environmental education – they could have chosen maybe museum trip or something similar – but the fact they did choose a forest trip is partic damaging given the current concerns over kids’ separation from the natural world. IMO, they’re trading on an outdated stereotype – in Europe the Forest Schools approach (giving a hands-on, ‘outback’ experience) is becoming the norm in environmental education. I am signing your petition, which I think is a great idea, and will be recommending friends to never cross the threshold of the “R” Us family home again.

  5. As an advertisement it is reprehensible for two main reasons: 1) it genuinely hurts and hinders a whole movement (Environmental Education), with which Toys R Us has no relationship and which has no right to reply; 2) there is a muddled suggestion that Toys R Us provide free toys. Otherwise what are they saying – that children love toy shops and toys? What is the news there? Point one is a demonstration of corporate cowardice. Point two is simply bad, lazy advertising. I will not be using Toys R Us until they publicly apologise. I’d expect such poor manners from a company, but not a family! (How trite.)

  6. With all due respect this ad by toys r us doesn’t constitute an attack on EE, I would be the first to defend EE but this is clearly just advertising, they could very well have chosen any other aspect of education because for children that age any school topic is going to be less interesting than trees. That may be a shame but it is the norm, what we should be taking away from this is a question; how can we make our environmental ed programmes as popular as toys? It’s only once children develop that kind of enthusiasm that they will be willing to do something about the environment.

    • “How can we make our environmental ed programmes as popular as toys?” It’s a big ask, isn’t it? – given the scale of the competition – both in terms of their marketing resources and the endless scope for movie / toy tie-ins (though perhaps a tie-in with The Lorax movie could’ve been worthwhile, esp if profits went to environmental work). How can nature compete with the sheer amount of stuff / things / virtual fantasias we’re endlessly tempted with? I actually think it IS possible – people writing here care about the environment, and no doubt in many cases their concern emanates from a seed sown somewhere in childhood. It’s a matter of giving people EXPERIENCE of great or small wildlife moments – most young kids delight in trips outdoors and their imagniation can be fired by the most ordinary beasties. It’s stopping them getting sidetracked when they’re older which is more difficult. More imaginative use of web platforms in EE may help from 8+, but I believe there is no substitute for kids to keep on getting ‘out there’ with inspiring tutors. In the UK we had a govt funded Schools Sport Partnership programmes (now shelved) which greatly increased students’ access to many sports in school – maybe we need an equivalent Schools Environment Partnership?

      • I’m glad you think it is possible to make environmental education more interesting, because there is so much that is stimulating outdoors, I am lucky enough to spend most of my time teaching topics related to the environment and have found on several occasions that the environment is preferable to technology and ‘toys’ For example students who constantly try and use their mobile phones in a classroom never seem to use it when they are outside engaged in an activity. Also I taught a session earlier this year where students were able to make a film of the signs of spring, the next lesson I had edited the films together and they were going to watch the film at our outdoor classroom in the woods, however no more than half a minute in to the film and they lost interest because they were distracted by song birds, They were more interested in the environment than the technology.
        Like you say children need to be out there in the environment not in a classroom learning about endangered exotics but learning about there own local wildlife and environment, if they are not familiar with their local area and if they don’t care about that how can we ask them to care about the wider global environment.
        I think the energy being put into petitioning against this relatively harmless advert could be better channeled into improving environmental ed provision.


    • Geoffrey – I think this ad intended to mock environmental educators and send the message that toys are more important than environmental education. Remember, the ad is publicizing a “charitable” gesture on the part of Toys R Us where these underprivileged children received free toys and a day of play at the store. That’s fine and dandy for the store to do, but why pit it against spending time learning about nature and having education be made the loser? You can find uninspiring teachers in any discipline but I find it reprehensible to make a competition of this with an unscientific pre-determined outcome that mocks the whole idea of learning about that which supports all life on Earth. This clearly tells kids that plastic toys bring happiness and spending time in nature is just boring.

      • I’m afraid I still think that using words like ‘reprehensible’ is taking things a bit too far in this instance, the add is not reprehensible, what is it to blame for? have we seen droves of children walking out of environmental ed programmes to go to Toys ‘R’ Us? and if the concern is with the unscientific predetermined outcome that children are going to prefer playing with toys than studying environmental ed, where is the science behind “I think this ad intended to mock environmental educators and send the message that toys are more important than environmental education” What makes you think that?

        I share some ideas of how to enrich environmental education and make it more engaging and valuable in my blog; http://bushcrafteducation.blogspot.co.uk/
        The blog does focus on the use of ‘bushcraft’ in education but I find that bushcraft activities lend themselves very well to supporting environmental education outcomes.


  7. Thanks for the information. You can be certain that I won’t be buying Christmas gifts for my grandchildren at ToysRus this year — or any year! I’m currently starting a blog that celebrates the wonders of nature and (I hope) encourages people of all ages to cultivate the sense of wonder and to reinvigorate their natural curiosity about the world around them. My blog isn’t up and running yet, but I hope to have the first post up soon.

  8. Pingback: Nature – not for kids? | SocialSnakesBlog

  9. Maybe the answer is to fight back with even more cool educational technology, such as http://www.vEcotourism.org , which enables kids (and adults) to have an immersive, interactive experience (whether alone or in class) of different habitats around the world, then encourage them to engage with the global issues and get hands-on with habitats on their doorstep?

  10. My annoyance is largely at myself for having completely missed this issue when it happened, especially as the amount we spent in the local Toys R Us during November for our four grandchildren was no laughing matter…. If I had known of this at the time, then TRU would have got none of our money! Guess where we will *not* be shopping next Christmas!

    Despite some of the comments above suggesting otherwise, I think that this was what Americans rightly call a ‘cheap shot’ by Toys R Us. For them to think their advertisement was acceptable was, at the very least, thoughtless and, at worst, ignorant.

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