A large and impacting part of a child’s cognitive growth is playtime, and that includes toys. As a little girl, I had dolls, carriages, and other pink or frilly items always within my grasp. Occasionally I’d have a set of building blocks. Most of the time though, my selection was limited to toys designated for girls. Sometimes I wonder how different my career path would be if I received that erector set instead of the easy bake oven.
These tactics were also employed at daycare when teachers would split up the boys and girls during certain times of the day. Boys got a corner with racecars, blocks, and other toys that encouraged creating and building, and girls played with the dolls and kitchen sets.
As the world moves forward with human rights and gender equality, parents and teachers are shifting into a new mindset where children are free to select the toys they want to play with. The stigma of telling a boy he shouldn’t play with dolls or a girl she shouldn’t play with racecars is less apparent. They aren’t limited to “safe” toys for either gender, too, such as sidewalk chalk or puzzles. Instead, boys and girls are encouraged to play with any and all toys that happen to gain their interest. Even the toy stores are adapting to this idea and are doing away with aisles designated “boys’ toys” and “girls’ toys.”
The fact these changes are implemented at such an early time is crucial for development. For example, women make up a small percentage in careers centered on sciences like physics and engineering because growing up they were discouraged from engaging in playtime activities that young boys usually participated in. When I was in daycare, I remember not understanding why the boys got to play with sticks, tools, and rockets whereas the girls had to learn how to crochet. Letting a little girl play with a toy that promotes building, experimenting, and creating will spark her interest in subjects primarily dominated by boys. Instead of extinguishing that interest, she’ll feel more secure and encouraged to study what intrigued her. Her interest will have a better opportunity to snowball into a major in college, and possibly a career. It sparks much-needed changes in our workforce and soon more women will obtain jobs currently dominated by men.
The very same can be said if a little boy takes up an interest in playing with dolls or baking. These activities are usually not deemed very manly and boys may be discouraged to play with these types of toys. However, this line of thinking is currently on the decline, as we are seeing more boys grow up to own their own bakeries, salons, etc.
As parents, you can begin the process at home by purchasing more gender-neutral toys and asking your child what he or she is interested in. Find out their likes, dislikes, and hobbies. Don’t discourage your little boy if he asks for a baby doll or your daughter if she expresses an interest in toy power tools. Take the time to research various daycares to find one that doesn’t have “boy” and “girl” play areas, or at least minimizes those types of play. Any environment where boys and girls are equal will contribute to your child’s growth and development. Become as involved as possible by conversing with their teacher and asking how they care for your children.
Parents only want what’s best for their children, and a common phrase they tell them is, “You can be anything you want to be.” Your kids will be more inclined to believe these words when they are encouraged to play with toys outside of the old-fashioned normative. Girls can excel in mathematics and architecture, and boys can grow up to be master pastry chefs and designers. The idea is to give them the tools so they can believe they can achieve who they want to be. Keep in mind it is still perfectly acceptable for a girl to be interested in toys like dolls and kitchen sets and for boys to still enjoy playing with cars, trucks, and spaceships. The idea is to promote all kinds of play for your child’s betterment. With these in mind, your child can fulfill his or her potential without being held back by gender roles.