Play is an important part of child development. All children need an opportunity to choose and play with
a wide variety of play experiences and toys so that they can develop many different skills. What we need
to consider is how play itself benefits our children and such consideration should not reflect gender
bias. Gender-neutral play provides the opportunity for children to learn a wide variety of skills.
- Children learn problem solving and spatial skills with toys focused on action, construction, and technology.
- Children practice social skills with toys that focus on small-scale theatre and role play.
- Perseverance and fine motor skills develop when children use arts and crafts.
Rigid boundaries designating which toys are “appropriate” for girls and which for boys turn childrenaway from their true preferences. Additionally, gender bias in toys can lead to bullying when a child chooses a toy not perceived as “right” for their gender.
Unfortunately, studies have shown that by late primary age children already have very clear idea about the jobs that are suitable for boys and girls. Much of this “programming” comes from gender designation for toys. To avoid gender stereotyping, choose the following toys:
- Manipulative Toys. Manipulative toys are some of the best gender-neutral play choices. Toddlers love blocks for making imaginary buildings. Pair them with small cars to race along imaginary highways. Shapesorters teach cause and effect. Create tossing game with small balls or bean bags and a basket.
- Toys with Wheels. Wheeled toys help children develop balance. Very small children love any toy with wheels. These toys help develop motor skills because they require visual-motor coordination. Start with age-appropriate scoot-along toys, then progress to tricycles, and bicycles.
- Arts and Crafts. Arts and crafts work for children of any age. Crayons, markers, child-sized scissors, and paper stimulate kids’ imaginations. Additionally, art projects develop gross and fine motor skills. Use butcher block paper taped to the floor for giant paintings or to create an imaginary town with roads for toy cars and businesses manned by tiny dolls.
- Puzzles and Board Games. Board games and puzzles teach cooperative play, social skills, and problem solving. Choose those appropriate for the age of your child or make your own out of cardboard mounted magazine pictures.
- Clothes and Boxes. Old clothes and empty boxes make excellent gender-neutral items for pretend play. Kids love dressing up for make-believe games. Cardboard boxes make excellent cars, buildings, and caves.
- Put on music for dancing for your child to develop many physical and emotional attributes. Dancing develops gross and fine motor skills and promotes physical fitness. It also helps develop agility, balance, coordination, flexibility, stamina, and strength, and stamina. Dancing boosts mental health, increases self-esteem and confidence, and provides emotional expression.