Christmas is rapidly approaching, we have three granddaughters to spoil. They’re now ages 5, 6, and 7, and I’ve been spending my time checking out toys both online and in our local toy stores. What am I finding?
That the toy manufacturers have a long way to go.
When our first grandchild was born, we promised her parents that we would:
- not add to the already overwhelming pile of stuffed animals (difficult, but so far, so good)
- avoid toys requiring batteries (at least while the kiddos are young)
- avoid toys with trademarked ads promoting movies and TV shows—no Sesame Street characters, no Disney princesses (we’ve done fairly well on this one).
Instead, we’d look for toys that leave plenty of room for a child’s imagination, toys such as blocks, balls, and craft materials. We’d buy books to supplement their weekly trips to the library. And we’d encourage them in whatever direction their interests lie.
I have to say, it hasn’t been easy. My first trip to a local big box store was downright disheartening. ALL the toys for sale featured trademarked characters. All of them. From Thomas the Tank Engine to Dora the Explorer, no advertising opportunity was overlooked.
In addition, many required batteries, so that the toy could do all the entertaining while the child watched. Electronic toys were particularly popular, even for infants. Plus, they all made obnoxious sounds. No thank you.
Then there was the gender issue. The “girl” toys and the “boy” toys were separated, the aisles clearly distinguished by a preponderance of pink in the first case, and black/silver action figures in the second. Is this where I mention that only one of our granddaughters prefers pink?
As the girls have grown, toys aimed at a specific gender have become even more of a problem. For example—the year she was three, our youngest became hooked on astronomy. At her request, even her birthday party was space-themed, with cupcakes featuring her favorite planet, Saturn. We all had fun choosing gifts that year—adhesive glow-in-the-dark stars for her bedroom ceiling, a rocket ship tent to travel the heavens in, and an astronaut costume for dressing up.
But then there were the other gifts I couldn’t find. I wanted to get her some footie PJs, so I went searching online. And yes, you guessed it—all the space-themed jammies were for boys. (Thankfully, preschoolers are all pretty much the same shape, so they fit.) All the space-themed birthday cards on the rack were for boys. We ended up crossing out “boy” and writing in “girl”—but why should we have to do that?
Yes, little boys and little girls are different. I still remember watching a group of kids playing with Legos. The girls built houses and animals. The boys built weapons. But why limit them unnecessarily? Why are all the toys designed for girls promote traditional female roles (think toy vacuums, kitchens, or babies), while all the “boy” toys (race cars, transformers, science kits) promote adventure?
I thought that the increasing popularity of STEM toys—those designed to stimulate interest in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics—would have filtered down to the local stores, but apparently not. (And the brick-and-mortar shops wonder why we mostly shop online?)
A few years ago, our oldest granddaughter got an electronics kit for Christmas. Here she is, in a pink tutu with her wiring completed.
This year, she received a robot kit for her seventh birthday. Her dad got her started and they built the first project together, but from then on, she’s been on her own, spending hours designing and programming everything from cats to guitars. When we visited last month, she couldn’t wait to show us!
Yes, our granddaughters play with dolls and other traditionally female toys. But they also love to collect bugs in their viewing jars. They build houses for their ponies—and houses for the earwigs in the garden. They love books about ballet and about monsters.
As we choose their Christmas presents this year, I’m keeping their respective interests in mind—whatever they may be. I wish the toy manufacturers would do the same.