Gender and toys

When boys play with dolls

Is there such a thing as ‘toys for boys’?

Snips and snails, and puppy dogs tails? Sugar and spice and all things nice? In the 21st century, most of us feel that there’s more to gender than a 19th-century nursery rhyme would have us believe…

Many of today’s parents are increasingly aware of not enforcing gender stereotypes on their children when it comes to their playthings. Nevertheless, research shows that toy marketers are still segmenting children into gender-stereotyped categories. A recent study looked at toy catalogues and found that:

  • Boys were four times as likely to be shown playing with cars.
  • Girls were twice as likely to be shown with ‘domestic’ play items.
  • Colour-coding of toys (pink or blue) is used to suggest which toys are for boys, and which are for girls.

These marketing messages can have an impact on young minds, perhaps to their detriment.

Children become aware of their gender as early as two years old. As they grow up, they notice the social cues – influences from popular culture and those around them – that lead them to play according to their gender grouping.

Although there’s nothing wrong with your princess loving pink, playing with a variety of toys teaches children different lessons or life skills. Eliminating particular toys based on gender stereotypes means that your child could be missing out.

What kids learn from playing with different types of toys

As children play with their toys, they build up different skill sets. For example, traditionally masculine toys (like building blocks) encourage spatial and visual skills, while traditionally feminine toys (like dolls) encourage social skills and communication.

Learning as much as they can through play at an early age enhances children’s development and widens their options as they approach adulthood. By being limited to gender-specific toys, children could unknowingly and unfairly be ruling out certain academic, professional and recreational horizons for themselves.

What parents can do

  • Avoid assigning gender stereotypes to certain toys.
  • When your children are old enough to understand, talk to them about what they see in the media and perceive in society about gender roles and play.
  • There’s no need to eradicate all stereotypical play. Rather, encourage your children to explore playing with a variety of toys, like building blocks, fantasy play, sports and crafts.
  • Encourage mixed gender play by getting girls and boys to play with one another and share toys. They’ll see that they’re not always so different after all!

Truly Toys stock a range of educational toys for all ages and genders. Visit our website or contact us for a quote: 011 618 1337 /

At Truly Toys, we help you to be an even better parent or teacher by providing learning resources for dynamic play that encourage children’s development.

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