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Educational toys for girls and boys – is there a difference?


Do boys and girls play differently? Should you be choosing different toys for them? And should an interest in certain toys be discouraged? These are all questions that may cross the mind of any parent, family member or friend trying to decide how to choose the most appropriate toy from all those available on the market.

Boys will be boys
Few people would deny that most boys tend to like cars, trains, guns and action packed games, whereas in general girls seem happier playing with dolls/soft toys, domestic toys such as kitchens, and sparkly dressing up clothes. Is there anything wrong with this? On the surface no, but if play is solely restricted to strongly gender stereotyped toys and games then things may take a different turn. It could mean that girls will grow up learning that looking attractive and developing strong nurturing and domestic skills are of primary importance. And, because their toys and games tend to be more competitive, often with an element of risk, danger or aggression, boys may grow up learning that aggression, violence, and competition are both fun and exciting.

Are you a positive role model?
There have been several studies into how girls and boys play with toys and what influences them to do so. One of the key influential factors is how children observe adults interacting with the toys during shared play time as this sends strong messages to children regarding gender-typed behaviours (1). Children will often mimic the behaviour of their role model adult. In fact studies have shown that parents tend to spend more time playing with the child's gender-same toys longer, for example a girl's doll, or a boy's train. Also, that parents seem more comfortable with gender-same toys and can often be dismissive of cross-sexed toys (2). Maybe rather than observing how your child plays with toys, you should be observing how you play with toys and considering the influence you are having on them!

What about comfort toys - good or bad?
Many children may become attached to a particular toy or object such as a blanket. Whilst parents may worry that this is not healthy and should be discouraged there is no evidence to suggest this is the case. In fact children who adopt favourite comfort objects are often liable to sleep better and be well adjusted. In most cases the obsession with a particular toy or object will be grown out of when the child is ready.

Variety is the spice of life!
The bottom line is that from an educational development perspective both boys and girls will benefit most from being exposed to a wide variety of different play experiences to help them fully develop. Puzzles and shape sorters will teach all children about shapes, colours and names of objects. And, all children will gain from playing with, for example, toy kitchen equipment, dolls, cars, fantasy figures and computer games irrespective of their gender. These type of toys stimulate imagination and teach practical new skills. Maybe this is the critical thing to remember when choosing a toy for a child - education begins at an early age and a varied education will give every child the solid grounding for a more balanced view of life as they develop and grow.

Some great educational wooden toys for girls and boys to enjoy;

  • Tool box for budding DIY experts
  • Vanity case to accompany fun dressing up
  • Wooden kitchen/cooker for the next Jamie Oliver or Nigella Lawson
  • Toaster to practice getting you breakfast in bed one day
  • Wooden sword for swashbuckling pirates
  • Shape sorter to challenge and stimulate the younger child

    Geo Sorting Board

    tool box

    Wooden Vanity/Cosmetic Case


    Karen Singleton
    Strawberry Children's Toys 
    Strawberry Childrens Toys Ltd - image copyright 2005


    (1) Caldera, Huston, O'Brien, 1989
    (2) Langolis and Downs, 1980

    About Karen Singleton and Strawberry Children's Toys
    Karen is a mum of two who is passionate about quality, affordable toys which encourage learning and development through play. She runs her own online independent shop specialising in educational wooden toys and traditional wooden toys for babies and children under 5. All toys featured on Strawberry Children's Toys are played with, tested and enjoyed by real children.

  • Strawberry Childrens Toys Ltd - image copyright 2005

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