New York City
March 2003

If You Ask Dr. McCune Education Begins with Play… for Boys & Girls!
by Lorraine McCune, Ed.D.

A trip to some of the showrooms at the recent Toy Fair confirmed the broad divide between schools and toys and between toys for girls and toys for boys. A visit to Toys-R-Us, or the boutique toy store in midtown will tell you the same thing.

Educational toys are all the rage these days, and some of them are great! GC Toys and Leap Frog show terrific creativity in developing toys that teach. Handwriting recognition technology allows a tech-toy to assist with learning to print the alphabet. Many toys assist with math facts and spelling. A doll or bear can now supplement parents’ reading to kids by doing the reading for them. All of this is fun and it all contributes to learning. But why do we not see these toys in classrooms for young children… and why do we not see links with curriculum? Perhaps educators need to take the lead in inducing the toy industry to begin designing more directly for the classroom and in making more direct curricular links between schools and toys.

Regarding toys for boy and girls… no surprise… they exist in different marketing worlds and different preschool play areas! As educators wishing for the best development for all of our children it is important to cross these lines and encourage toy companies and parents to do so as well. In my research with one- and two-year-olds I learned that all children, as they begin to represent their world in play, enjoy nurturing a doll or stuffed animal. Children with siblings, even at 18 months, carefully play out the caregiving rituals they witness. When boys and girls play together in small groups they include the traditions of both kinds of sex-typed activities. After school the other day I found two five-year-old girls rivaling one another with how far their paper airplanes could fly, and running powerfully after them. Later one of these girls used Lego blocks to build a car that rolled and pulled a trailer. Her play set was in traditional bright colors (not pastel designed for girls and ruling out boys!) but included small figures and bits to make a garden… opportunities she enjoyed.

Some of the educational divide that we see between the sexes begins in the nursery. Evidence of a biological basis for sex-typed play is slim, while parental and school pressure is often all too obvious. Are we afraid girls won’t be feminine, boys won’t be strong? Toys that children use to build structures, vehicles or creatures, especially those that do something afterward, assist in perceptual, logical, and mathematical development. Toys that encourage pretend bring out the latent story-teller and encourage children’s emotional processing of their daily lives. Boys and girls all need both of these skills. If we can slow down sex-typing our toys and start encouraging boys and girls to play together in the early school years everyone will have greater opportunities and more fun!#

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