Playing with a variety of toys leads to appropriate growth for girls and boys

Expand play for children by allowing them to choose what to play with.

In today’s culture, there are definitely thoughts and beliefs for how children should play and what they should play with. Society, media and toy manufacturers expect boys to play with cars, balls and blocks and girls to play with dolls, kitchens and dress-up clothing. It is important for children to have opportunities to play with all types of toys and join in diverse activities. We may hear many different opinions of what should be expected for play, and we may agree or disagree. The fact is, all play leads to higher achievement in developmental milestones for children who are given the choice of how to play and what to play with.

Be open-minded when it comes to children and play. It is very appropriate for boys to play with dolls in the house area and for girls to play with blocks and toy trucks. The key is to remember that play, no matter which activity or toy is used, should be open to all. Always be prepared to offer children choices in play that include many different possibilities. Don’t think of toys as being gender-specific, but as developmentally appropriate for the child.

Playing with toys such as dolls or kitchens can lead children to use their imaginations while developing their social, emotional and language skills. These types of toys help children learn to interact with others and lead directly to real life situations within a child’s environment. Playing in the kitchen leads children to enjoy making food in the kitchen with the adults in their lives. Playing with a doll leads to helping a child understand babies in real life and prepares children to be in the presence of newborns without being frightened of them. Toys that are interactive in nature will lead to cooperative play and sharing. An activity such as “dress up” also leads to brand new worlds for a child’s imagination. PBS Kids offers a great website with games and playing dress up with Daniel Tiger.

Initiating play with items such as blocks, balls and toy cars can lead to an increase in motor, language and social skills. Every child can have a great time playing with blocks. They can use their imagination to create a castle, a garage or a grocery store. Playing with cars can lead them to an imaginary trip to the ocean and a great big truck can deliver their favorite things to other parts of the world. There is no limit to the imagination of a child. Our job is to give them the most opportunities possible for them to use their imaginations. Allowing a child to play with any type of toy, as long as it’s safe and age appropriate, will help them grow and increase their creativity and sense of self.

No matter how you feel about toys and activities that may or may not be gender specific, keep in mind that all toys can be considered gender neutral for children under the age of five. Consider allowing a boy to play with stuffed animals and dolls. Allow a girl to play with toy cars and blocks. In the long run these opportunities are only going to make them stronger developmentally and more well-rounded when they enter kindergarten. Young children also develop important life skills such as compassion and respect for others as they enter future formal educational settings.

Michigan State University Extension recommends the following articles when searching for developmentally appropriate toys:

For more information on child development, parenting and school readiness please visit the Family Section on the Michigan State University Extension website.

To learn about the positive impact children and families are experience due to MSU Extension programs, read our 2016 Impact Reports: “Preparing young children to success” and “Preparing the future generation for success.” Additional impact reports, highlighting even more ways Michigan 4-H and MSU Extension positively impacted individuals and communities in 2016, can be downloaded from the Michigan 4-H website.

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