Toy shopping season is well under way, in fact, we have two weeks until Christmas! Here’s the short and sweet of it: Big Box toy aisles are horribly gendered and full of stereotyped, sexualized, violent, mostly boring toys. I don’t mean to sound like a Scrooge, but what passes for “toys” these days is ridiculous. It is difficult to find items that are true toys, do not limit the child’s potential to interact with it, and are gender inclusive. So what is a family to do?
The long answer is that toy marketers long ago segmented the market in order to double their profits and too few parents question this. The lowest common denominators of gender are used to categorize our children and turn them into little consumers that leaves their gender their most salient quality and compresses adult concepts like war, sex, and beauty into very young imaginations while sucking up our hard earned cash as we buy the next hot item to placate our kids. This type of marketing and product is now so prevalent it is hard to see the forest through the trees. But really, all we have to do is look back to our own childhoods.
The short answer is that you are shopping for toys in the wrong places.
I talked about gender, toys, and how this hurts our kids today on NPR’s On Point with Tom Ashbrook. My friend and colleague Dr. Elizabeth Sweet joined us for a great discussion. You can listen here.
Here is what I recommend:
1. Shop at your local, independent toy store. They are more likely to carry items made by small businesses and most importantly they put a ton of research and care into toys that will stimulate and entertain the young child. There are never pink aisles or blue aisles. Toys are grouped by category or interest and many toys are award winners and eco-friendly. The staff is usually knowledgeable and friendly and knows what to do when you say, “I’m looking for a gift for an eight year old who likes science and moths.” Everybody wins!
2. Hunt down specific toys on Craigslist or Ebay. If you are someone who plans ahead, rummage sales in the summer are great places to find toys at great prices. Your kids won’t notice it didn’t come in a box.
3. Shop at your nearest museum or children’s museum gift shop. These can be gendered, but for the most part are focused on learning.
4. Books. Done.
5. Scientific Explorer makes some cute science kits. You’ll see these in stores and some are gendered, but online there is a great selection.
6. What about an experience gift — like a membership to a museum or trip to the aquarium? We’re headed to the Shedd and the Field Museum after Christmas.
7. I like toys that get kids active, like bikes, stomp rockets, sports equipment, and seasonal toys like snow shoes, sleds, and igloo block makers.
8. I babysat for a family who once gave their kids a series of cardboard boxes nestled in each other like matryoshka dolls and in the smallest box was tape, box cutters, string, markers, and scraps from the crafting drawer.
9. Tool box, with real tools. Every kid needs one.
10. Here is a list of some of my favorite places to shop at:
Museum Tour Toys, http://www.museumtour.com/
Fat Brain Toys, http://www.fatbraintoys.com/
Magic Cabin, http://www.magiccabin.com/
Here are a ton of dolls for boys, because they need to learn to be nurturing and capable for when they become dads/uncles
Roominate – the truly awesome girl engineering toy we should be talking about right now
Step 2 has nice gender inclusive play kitchens, for those boys who like to cook too!