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Gender Neutral or...

Gender Neutral or Gender Specific Toys: Just Play!

Every Tuesday, at three pm, I collect my two-year- old grandson from nursery school and we play until his dinnertime, about two hours later.

One of our favorite outdoor activities is walking around the neighborhood looking for trucks. We get very excited when we see one; we point and wave, and discuss the truck’s color and size, spreading our arms wide when the truck is “so big.” The real bonanza is seeing workers at a construction site, gardeners, or tree surgeons.  Give us a sidewalk being dug up, a house being renovated, a driveway being paved, a lawn being mowed or a tree being pruned, and we are truly ecstatic.

These truck drivers and workers—men and women—wave and smile back.

On a recent visit, too cold to play outside, I baked muffins with Simon. I created a makeshift apron with a dishtowel so he wouldn’t get batter all over his shirt. A few days later, I bought fabric to make him his own apron, sized to fit him. It’s something I did for my children when they were small and they wanted to help in the kitchen.

I found the perfect fabric: bright blue fabric decorated with trucks!  Simon is thrilled with his apron.

I didn’t think, oh, I’m gearing him toward a career in construction. Or that by selecting this “boy” type fabric; he’d never cook a meal. I expect he’ll find his own path in time.

Which brings me to some recent news articles that focus on gender-specific toys and the ageless debate about nature versus nurture.

Lego, the Danish plastic block company, announced its new line, geared toward girls. They’d concentrated products on boys the past several years; deciding that girls wouldn’t play with kits featuring space aliens and ninjas, in addition to the traditional police and fire stations. Now, they’re hoping to lure girls back, adding “Lego Friends,” which include new pastel colored blocks, girl characters, and models to build a horse academy, a salon, and a café. In New York City, elite elementary schools are embracing block play. (I hadn’t realized they had been removed from classrooms.) Hamley’s, London’s 251 year old toy store, has replaced its pink and blue sections, favoring more gender-neutral signs designating interest not gender.

As parents with young sons, we tried not to buy them play guns. No fools, they’d commandeer any stick or block into a pretend weapon. Our daughter didn’t play with dolls or stuffed animals, but still insisted on having a Barbie and an American Girl doll. Our eldest son’s security blanket was a soft clown doll.  Lego’s and other building toys kept the boys busy for days. Unable to replicate what appeared on the boxes, they threw everything together in big bins, blocks of all types, action figures, toy cars and trains; all became props in pretend play. And all three loved to bake.

The other day Simon picked up his baby sister’s lime-green camel. It would be hard to find a more gender-neutral stuffed animal. He placed it on the floor, and moving it along like a train, said, “Choo- choo.” To which my daughter-in-law quipped, “Now we know what a camel says.”

What’s important after all, is playing. There are enough role models around in the 21st century for children to realize both genders can do most jobs. A stuffed camel can be a train. Blocks can create castles with princesses and swordfights. And aprons can have trucks.

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