HomeeducationWhat Education Are We Encouraging With Toys?
original image via flickr

Last week, I found a story about an awesome modular building kit marketed to girls, while remaining gender neutral.

The inspiration behind the kits, instilling a love of STEM through play brings up a good question. What are we encouraging with the toys we give, and how can we use them most beneficially?

All Toys are For Girls AND Boys
There’s a place for pretend play for all children. Are we encouraging the spectrum of emotion and education in boys, girls and those who don’t fit so neatly in the binary gender system?

For years, marketers have sold us the idea that kids should play with toys appropriate to their assigned genders. Girls got dolls and play kitchens, while boys got action figures and toy weapons. When it comes to creativity, girls are still targeted for crafts, like jewelry making, while boys are targeted for STEM, like building kits.

Recently, a large retailer, Target, desegregated their toy and bedding sections. Although I expected some sort of backlash, I was still stunned at how vehemently upset many parents were with the change.

As I went through coupons a couple weeks ago, this page from the Target flyer caught my eye.

I thought right away of the kit mentioned in the beginning of this entry and wondered if the marketers used it as inspiration for this product grouping.

That aside, I still liked the fact they put these together and tried making it gender neutral. It tells the potential customer that pretend and creative play are both important, and they don’t need to be separate. Further, it doesn’t matter if the child is a boy or girl.

I guess you could try reading into the blue background as being stereotypically for boys, but that could easily be countered by the inclusion of the little pink doll house. This is a step in the right direction. There’s still room for improvement, but it’s still an awesome change.

Love of Learning Outside of School
This topic got me thinking about how neurodiverse kids are especially susceptible to giving up on education due to the treatment they often receive in schools.

I agree with those who feel all young kids should enjoy school. Unfortunately, I know from experience and observation that a lot of young students hate it. I can’t blame them, either.

When you’re constantly behind the rest of the class, or pressured by adults who don’t understand what you’re going through, or bullied by other kids, how can you have a good time? In my case, bullying from other kids was compounded with endless academic struggles due to dyslexia.

Kids like the one I was deserve education, and are generally just as curious as I was. How many of those kids lose that love of learning at the hands of stereotyping, politics and misunderstanding?

When local schools are failing neurodiverse students, and traditional school alternatives are unlikely or unavailable, what’s left? How can adults encourage curiosity and fun, educational opportunities for vulnerable kids?

I talk a lot about broad, structural changes, but in the moment, individual change is most important. At the very least, we can take some pressure off of learning by concentrating on the fun aspect.

Dyspraxia makes building kits a poor fit for some kids, while dyslexia makes Scrabble a poor fit for others, but there are always options out there. Even just going on a leaf or bug collecting walk could generate forays into natural science.

From a bug hunting expedition along the Mississippi with family this summer. So fun!

If kids aren’t getting what they need at school, it must be supplied elsewhere.

There’s no hard and fast rule that states learning shouldn’t be fun. In fact, it should be.

We’re naturally curious creatures, regardless of if our wiring matches the majority of the population or not. That urge to explore is how we all learn about the world around us. Why not embrace that and encourage it?

At the end of the day, all kids need the lessons taught by all types of play. Girls need confidence taught by sports just as much as boys need compassion taught by playing house. Neurodiverse kids need the challenge of science kits just as much as neurotypical kids need the creativity of craft kits.

There’s no good reason why to isolate a child’s interests just because of their wiring or gender. What’s the harm in offering options from a young age?

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