Toys are exciting and magical for children, allowing them to explore their creativity and test the outer limits of their imagination. Beyond that, toys serve an important practical and developmental purpose by helping them learn how the world works, allowing for social interaction and problem solving. It is easy to see then that the toys we make and provide to children who play with them on a daily basis, play a large role in their overall growth.
Researchers from Eastern Connecticut State University conducted a study on toy interactions with children. The most interesting part of their study was “toys that have traditionally been viewed as male oriented – construction toys and toy vehicles, for example – elicited the highest quality play among girls”. They made sure to advise, “Set aside previous conceptions about what inspires male and female play and objectively observe toy effects to be sure boys and girls equally benefit from play materials”.
This is important advice as it seems the separation of “girl” versus “boy” toys has become a controversial debate. Recently, for example, Target made an announcement that it was moving toward “gender-neutral” toy aisles which would essentially allow children to pick toys based on what they liked contrasted with what a store’s signage told them to like. Those against the move felt it was quite simply an attack on gender. Some ventured to ask, “How will we know which toys are for girls and which ones are for boys”? The Daily Beast reasoned, “Target is not attacking gender itself, only the outdated idea that girls and boys should play with certain shapes and colors of molded plastic and not others”. Essentially, a girl can pick out a science kit and an easy bake oven and a boy can take home a doll (with pink clothes and all!) and a Lego set. They can choose whatever they find interesting and want to explore.
Modern Mom talks about how the color pink is marketed to girls and is “associated with submissive or care-taking behavior”. Care-taking is a wonderful thing for our daughters to learn through pretend play, but wouldn’t it be great for our sons to learn as well? Could our world shift through this play and be full of engaged fathers who feel equally empowered to raise children as mothers? Would we have more women who would go on to become engineers and scientists? Modern Mom went on to say, “While it is fine for a girl to have a room full of pink princess toys, she might enjoy building a train track or crashing a car. Boys might enjoy taking a break from building block towers and shooting squirt guns to make a pretend meal in a toy kitchen”. We, as parents, need to support and facilitate that.
If we succumb to the toy store signage for what we allow our children to play with, we will limit them. Let them explore whatever toy they’re drawn to, even if it’s in the “wrong” aisle; just remember the power of play.