Gendered Toys Affect Our Children’s Development
Lego Said It Best in 1975
These instructions printed on the side of a 1973 Lego set is an excellent reminder of the spirit of play;
“The urge to create is equally strong in all children. Boys and girls. It’s imagination that counts. Not skill. You build whatever comes into your head, the way you want it. A bed or a truck. A dolls house or a spaceship. A lot of boys like doll houses. They’re more human than spaceships. A lot of girls prefer spaceships. They’re more exciting than dolls houses. The most important thing is to put the right material in their hands and let them create whatever appeals to them.” – Lego
Unfortunately it is also a clear sign that we have taken many steps backwards in terms of gender equality in recent years.
What We Should Be Asking Ourselves Today
- What message are we sending our children through the toys we buy for them?
- What are we telling our girls about themselves and their role in the world when we buy them only dolls, kitchen equipment and craft sets?
- What message do our boys receive when they are limited to playing with trucks, tools and building sets?
Don’t Succumb To Stereotypes
While long-standing social stereotypes are often to blame for the way children’s toys are marketed along strict gender lines, it really does come back to us as parents to lead by example with our own children.
We get to choose the toys our own children are exposed to and ensure that the message we send is one of equality and potential, not of division.
What The Research Says
It is unsurprising to most parents that research is now backing up what we’ve already known about childhood development from observing it in our own homes.
Girls often display stronger interpersonal skills and emotional intelligence as a result of their tendency to spend time in role-play and modelled play. While boys are usually more advanced in their physical capabilities and problem solving because most of their time is spent building and physical activity.
According to the University of Chicago, by preschool age boys have stronger spatial skills than girls and as they develop this difference continues to grow. This is especially concerning as spatial skills are vital to succeed in areas of Science and Math, which explains the lack of women in professional arenas such as Engineering, Technology and Science.
The Institution for Engineering and Technology found that construction toys are three times more likely to be targeted towards boys and are concerned of the implications of this for our future generations of young women.
Close The Gap
If we want to address the gender divide in our society we need to start with the way we encourage our children to see themselves in the world through play.
This doesn’t mean we need to deny the instinctual nature of boys and girls to play with the toys they are naturally drawn to. It simply means we need to remove our stereotypical beliefs around gender and toys to encourage all children to play with different types of toys equally.
If we want our girls to enter education and the working world on an even playing field we need to make sure that they are on the right developmental path from early childhood. Giving our girls opportunities to play with construction toys is an excellent way to engage them in activities to develop these skills alongside their male peers.
Educational Benefits of Building & Construction Based Play
- Helps children to understand principles of science and physics including gravity, weight and balance
Problem solving skills
- Allows children to discuss and solve problems together and independently
- Improves Math skills of grouping, adding, subtracting and sequencing
- Lets them practice classification and critical thinking
- Provides opportunities to develop social relationships with other girls and boys
- Develops vocabulary around concepts such as size, comparison, shape and building
- Increases self-esteem through achievement when constructing to a design
- Helps them to build resilience through trial and error experimentation
Imagination / Creativity
- Improves creativity as construction is often open-ended and only limited by their own imagination
Coordination / Physical Skills
- Improves hand-eye coordination
- Helps to develop confidence in their own ability to manipulate shapes and forms
It is undeniable that all children, not just boys, need these skills to develop and thrive in many areas of schooling.
So while it may just appear to be child’s play, it’s clear we need to avoid gender lines when choosing toys and allow these early experiences to set our girls on the right path for life.
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