Play—the perfect way to build your child’s imagination, encourage sharing, learn new skills and have some fun. But for decades, most toys have been classified as either “boy toys” or “girl toys.” Advertising and society in general have reinforced to children that girls play with dolls and boys play with cars. According to an article in the New York Times, though, a recent trend has been inspiring families to find more gender-neutral toys.
This shift doesn’t mean that dolls and cars should go away or children should be forced to play with toys meant for the opposite sex. However, there’s more opportunity than ever before to share different types of toys with your kids. Encouraging them to play with toys meant for all genders helps them figure out what genuinely interests them.
The benefits of gender-neutral toys
No matter what toys your children play with, they’re always learning. And when they’re not forced into playing with “boy toys” or “girl toys,” you’re helping build their self-esteem. Opening your children’s mind to all kinds of toys allows them to form their own interests and explore their identity.
Have more than one child or playdates with kids of the opposite sex? Filling your toy room with gender-neutral toys can help your kids—and their siblings and friends—spend more time playing together. Rather than girls’ toys taking over one part of the room and boys’ toys the other, everyone can play together. Individual and group play time is important for children of all ages and genders.
If children only play with ‘boy toys’ or ‘girl toys,’ then they are missing out on a whole host of skills. It is really important to have children get this broad range of experiences. — Laura Zimmerman, developmental psychologist
Gender-neutral toys help enhance learning skills
Every child learns differently. Some are more hands-on while others tend to be more analytical. All kids, however, need practice with a few core competencies. Gender-neutral toys can help in their development of each of them.
Problem solving: Are your children constantly asking questions? This is a good thing. It means they are feeling challenged and would like to find an answer. Having the ability to solve a problem is a life-long skill and creating an environment to ask questions and experiment with ideas is critical.
Gender-neutral toys that can help build problem-solving skills include games, puzzles and even a science kit. Each one offers a fun way to get to the end result. And once your child finishes the puzzle, game or kit, he’ll feel accomplished, building that self-esteem even more.
Motor skills: Developing strong motor skills helps your child both physically and mentally. Gross motor skills affect the large muscles in your child’s body such as his arms and legs. Practicing movements that work these muscles keeps your child strong. Fine motor skills impact smaller muscles like the hands and feet, assisting with little movement. Working on fine motor skills keeps kids steady and agile.
Both types of motor skills are equally important. There are countless gender-neutral toys available for kids to work on their motor skills. Legos, coloring, painting and play doh help the smaller hand and wrist muscles, exercising fine motor skills. Kicking or throwing a ball, swimming, tumbling and other kids sports can be great ways to enhance gross motor skills.
Spatial skills: As your child has grown you’ve probably noticed she’s become more aware of what’s around her. Understanding the difference between “in” and “out” or “above” and “below” is part of developing spatial skills. Blocks and puzzles are the perfect gender-neutral toys to assist your children with spatial skills because they help them understand the position and shape of the objects around them.
In the past, studies have shown that boys are more spatially aware, making them excellent candidates for science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) activities and careers down the road. However, lately, girls have been encouraged to explore STEM-related ventures and play with toys like building blocks, construction sets, doctors kits and more.
Imagination: When your child has the opportunity to use his imagination, a whole new world opens up to him. Pretend play, alone or with others, allows children to truly be themselves and develop their own interests. Their mind is free to go in the direction it wants, helping kids figure out what they like and don’t like.
Beyond pretend play, toy kitchens, playgrounds and magna tiles are examples of gender-neutral toys that encourage kids to use their imagination. And while these stand out as prime contenders, in reality all toys are meant for imaginative play.
Gender-neutral toys for skill-building
|Skill||Description||Suggested gender-neutral toys and activities|
|Problem solving||Using the brain to find the answer to a challenge||Games, puzzles, science kit|
|Motor||Working on the movements of the large and small muscle groups||Fine motor: Legos, coloring, painting, play doh
Gross motor: kicking, throwing, swimming, tumbling
|Spatial||Being aware of the space and objects around you||Blocks, puzzles, construction sets, doctors kits|
|Imagination||Using the mind to be as creative as possible||Pretend play, toy kitchens, playgrounds, magna tiles|
Awareness is key
For parents looking to expose their kids to all types of toys, keeping an open mind is the first step. When you notice your child playing with a new toy at a friend’s house that you don’t have at home, consider purchasing it. If your child starts expressing interest in an activity you’ve never tried before, give it a go. Finding different toy options that don’t require pink or blue packaging is an ideal way to help your child grow while still having fun.