Last week, a group of concerned parents in Australia launched a campaign to end gender-specific marketing of toys and to promote the idea that all toys are for all children. The Play Unlimited Group is calling on toy manufacturers and retailers to stop labelling and marketing products as being either for boys or girls.
Similar campaigns have been launched in Europe, and some have been well received by the public. Another parent-led campaign, Let Toys Be Toys, asked retailers in the UK and Ireland to stop limiting children’s interests by promoting some toys as only suitable for girls, and others only for boys. They have achieved great success and big companies such as Toys R Us, Marks and Spencer, Tesco, Sainsbury’s, and Debenhams, have agreed to start phasing out gender-specific signage and marketing.
What the Experts Say
Play is how children learn. Among other things, play promotes exploration, imagination, creativity, and discovery. Toys are a key element to play as they serve as tools to promote and facilitate play opportunities.
Different types of toys help children to develop different skills. For example, building and construction toys help to develop problem solving and fine motor skills. Dolls, figurines, and “home corner” toys, foster imagination, language, and social skills. Bikes, balls, and other “outside” toys, develop gross motor skills, coordination, and balance. Drawing, painting, and play dough, help to develop fine motor skills.
All children need to develop these skills. Hence, the wider the play opportunities and experiences (and therefore wider range of toys) a child has, the more different skills the child can develop.
As toys are the tools children use to learn and develop skills, toys have a powerful influence on children’s thinking. Experts have found that interaction with strongly gender-typed toys may encourage gender stereotypes. Toys that are generally targeted to girls, often have a focus on the importance of physical attractiveness, and toys that are generally targeted to boys, often “normalise” violent behaviours.
What the Experts Recommend
Ultimately, the goal is to give children the best opportunity to develop their own interests, creativity and thinking skills.
Ensuring that your child has access to a variety of gender-specific toys as well as gender-neutral toys is healthy for their development.
When choosing toys for your child, look for toys that will widen play experiences and leave aside misconceptions about gender-stereotyped play.