Someone said that if you gave footballs to 100 girls and dolls to 100 boys, within an hour the boys would be kicking the dolls around and the girls would be nursing the footballs.
Research shows that the toy itself guides play. It's generally true that boys are more active than girls, while girls are more nurturing in their play.
But the toy itself makes demands - footballs invite kicking and dolls practically beg to be cuddled. It's true that "boys will be boys". But it's also true that dolls will be dolls and footballs will be footballs!
How Are They Different?
Many children first learn of computers by playing video games. Research finds that boys are attracted by their fast pace and action, by sound effects, and by being able to make things happen. Girls prefer games that "talk" to them and involve playing with others. They like music, but not shooting.
Although boys and girls play differently they are alike in basic ways. In fact, many of the differences are learned, especially from parents.
Most children like a variety of playthings - puzzles, wind-up animals, modeling clay, books and board games.
What Makes Them Different?
From around two to three years of age boys and girls begin to differ in their choices of some toys. Boys select male super-hero dolls and vehicles, girls preferring baby dolls and toy household objects.
Why are those sex-typed choices made? Apart from simple copying adults around them, children hope to win approval (or avoid disapproval) from their playmates, encouraging them to join them in their play. They also want praise from their parents for good behavior.
How Shall I Choose?
Manufacturers often package and market toys "for boys" or "for girls". So a pink toy chest with a Barbie? doll design is seen as a girls' toy. But this should not influence toy-buyers into thinking that a toy is only for a boy or only for a girl. Both need a variety of play experience to develop skills and attitudes.
Many parents are worried about allowing boys to play with dolls or domestic toys, yet there is no evidence that they develop 'feminine traits' by doing so. Without knowing it parents might influence their sons to avoid toys usually considered suitable for girls.
Does It Matter?
Both boys and girls may become attached to a doll, soft toy or blanket. There is no need to discourage them. Children who cling to favourite comfort objects are apt to sleep better and be well adjusted.
In recent years girls' play has become more like that of boys. They identify with super-heroes, play more adventure games and enjoy trucks, space toys and chemistry sets.
Play Pointers and Toy Tips
Boys and girls need to enjoy many different experiences with a variety of toys. Puzzles and shape sorters teach children about shapes, colours and names of objects. Parents also need to know how much can be learned from play with kitchen sets, dolls, vehicles, fantasy figures and video games. These stimulate imagination and teach practical new skills.
Praise your child for showing imagination or skill with a toy.
Parents with traditional attitudes tend to buy sex-typed toys. Don't limit children by providing only one kind of toy or play.
Being non-sexist in buying toys does not mean refusing your daughter a nurse's uniform or your son a Superman outfit.
To encourage boys and girls to play together combine neutral with traditional boys' and girls' toys in play areas.