What kinds of toys did you buy for Christmas?

Before Christmas I read an article about how since fathers are doing more of the child care and more of the purchasing for their families, toy makers are responding by producing toys for girls that also appeal to men.  Enter construction worker Barbie and pink Legos.

This may be the first generation of girls to get a chance (on average) to play a lot with construction-type toys.  From the article:

Research shows that playing with blocks, puzzles and construction toys helps children with spatial development, said Dr. Susan C. Levine, chairwoman of the psychology department at the University of Chicago and co-principal investigator at the National Science Foundation’s Spatial Intelligence and Learning Center. Even controlling for other skills such as verbal and numerical skills, she said, children with better spatial thinking are more likely to eventually go into mathematics, engineering, science and technology.

She said that a set aimed at girls could be beneficial, if only because it might increase girls’ likelihood of participating in construction activities.

Dr. O’Brien, the consultant on the new Barbie set, said adults had traditionally been “the limiting factor” in why girls have not played with those toys as often.”

I thought it was fascinating (and obvious, in hindsight) that adults have been the reason girls haven’t received toys that develop spatial skills, and as I recall in my childhood, nary a Lego entered our home until I was about 10 or 11 and my little brothers were old enough to play with them.  At that point, I certainly wasn’t interested in playing with construction toys.

This Christmas, my husband and I bought our 5-year old son a Lego set (although his favorite gift was a set of WWII airplanes from his cousin), and our 2 year-old daughter received pretend-play kitchen toys (since that’s what she gravitates toward in her Nursery class) and some puzzles.  I want both my kids to fully develop their minds in all kinds of ways, but it’s interesting to me that my husband is the one that’s the most vigilant about making sure our daughter doesn’t get too many “all-girl” toys.  And, he’s the one to really shop the sales.  The toy makers are noticing!


  1. I made both my kids (1 girl, 1 boy) skirts because they both like twirling in them. My son’s favorite animal is the hippo, so I used hippo fabric for his and my daughter is really into Pokemon, so I used Pikachu fabric for hers. My son got a baby doll for Christmas and a balance bike. My daughter got a cowgirl hat and an Ikea wardrobe to keep the dress up clothes in- does the hat count as traditional female role-playing toys for the poll? In their stockings they both got wooden cars, a wooden animal to paint (snake and alligator), slinkies, and notebooks for drawing in. Other people (grandparents, aunts and uncles) got my kids the regular gender-stereotype presents- Barbies for my daughter, trains/cars for my son.

    • What lovely, creative gifts. I got mainly the same things for my kids in their stockings, as well. Mainly to cut down on “I want what you have,” but the un-genderedness was another plus.

  2. Ugggg. I had major frustration this Christmas. We wanted to get our oldest daughter some Legos to extend her collection (she has a set of pink an purple random blocks that she loves). She naturally gravitates towards “girl” toys and LOVES pink, which I am fine with because I feel that that is what SHE likes (my second daughter is way into Cars and trains).

    The frustration came when I went to purchase legos and the Legos that my daughter would have loved (a treehouse set, a bakery, a horse stable) where only available in those new Friends Legos. While we do get her “girl” toys, I am very careful about the kinda we get – we don’t have Barbies for example- because she is 4 and I want her to play and act like a 4 year old, not older than she is. The friends Legos bug me for various reasons, one of which is that they are developed girls with makeup and “fashion”. They also are not like the traditional Lego men, they are bigger, which bugs. We toyed with the idea of getting a set and taking out the girl but didn’t because she would have seen it on the package and asked where it was. We went with a big builder box of traditional Legos (Primary colors) she was initially really disappointed because she wanted more pink ones but she does play with them.

    I guess this super huge comment is just to say how disappointed in Lego. (I have great memories of playing Legos as a girl and there where no girl vs boy Legos). I guess I just wanted to get it off my chest 🙂

    For the rest of her presents my daughter got craft and project materials and books. My 18 month old got a Thomas the train, a princess pretend camera (both of which she carries around in her stroller like baby dolls!) and books.

    • I’ve gotten a little more hopeful with Lego in their latest commercials for Duplo – one of them a dad playing with a girl and boy, the other of a mom playing with a girl and boy. Hopefully it’ll show Lego that gender neutral imagination building can do better than gender strict model making.

      My kids are still in the mode of everyone plays with everything – best we can do is try and keep them from insisting on playing with the toy one of the other children is playing with.

      Most of the toys we ended up giving were pretty heavily gendered, partly because that’s what they’ve gravitated to, but partly also because some of the shipping was done by others. I’m just glad they still prefer to play in the room with my “Big Crate o Legos”(TM)

  3. mraynes wrote a terrific post on this topic a while ago:

    What I’ve noticed about toys for my kids is this: my son wants mostly stereotypical masculine toys (action figures, cars, etc.) and gender neutral toys. My daughter wants a mix of both feminine, gender neutral, and to a lesser extent, masculine toys.

    That’s telling — my daughter will play with masculine toys, but my son wouldn’t touch feminine ones. Already gender norms have been instilled, and my daughter knows it’s fine for her to like “boy” stuff, but my son knows it’s not fine for him to like “girl” stuff. And this despite the fact I have tried to introduce them both to all types of toys and to teach them that all colors are great,etc. I heard gender norms start getting implanted by 18 months of age. Scary.

    • “I heard gender norms start getting implanted by 18 months of age.”

      I think it might be even earlier then that. There’s this study where they dressed babies (less than one year old) in pink and blue outfits (regardless of gender) and then put them in a room with adults of both sexes. Adults who had “pink” babies cuddled them, had them faced towards them and did things with them in their lap. Adults with “blue babies” tossed them in the air – had them sit facing out in the room, put them down on the floor so they could explore. So… I think the gender norms pretty much start from birth.

      • Bethsmash, so fascinating, and a little sad. I hope that knowing about that study will (positively) influence how I treat my own babies one day, whether they be boys or girls.

    • Caroline, thanks for posting to Mraynes’ post. It really was terrific (as were the many thoughtful comments).

      Your observations on your children reminds me so much of clothing gender norms, how it is largely considered okay for women to wear pants (excepting of course the pants-apocalypse), but is not similarly okay for men to wear skirts or dresses, signifying as always that it is permissible for the “lower” class to take on the behavior of the “upper” class, but not permissible for the “upper” class to take on the behavior of the “lower.”

  4. We got our 2 year old girl a set of gender neutral wood blocks–I think it’s been everyone’s favorite toy (including her older brothers). Our big focus this year was not getting any screen-centered gifts (no video games, movies, or electronic devices) because we got so many last year. It made for a quieter Christmas, but I was kind of kicking myself that I didn’t buy a movie for the kids to watch while I took a Christmas nap 🙂

  5. I bought books for my nephews. I tried to get ones I had liked as a child or thought were funny. So I got them Many Moons, A Alligators all around, Pierre: A Cautionary Tale, The Day We Danced in Underpants and as a very special treat my absolute all time favorite book (my brother’s too): How Captain Najork Beat Tom and His Hired Sportsmen. I was informed that my gift was my nephew’s absolute favorite. Auntie Em for the win!

    For my nephew’s birthday (next week) I got a plush elephant and “Me…Jane.” If you haven’t read that, you must. It is wonderful. It is the story of Jane Goodall, based on her actual childhood. It talks about all the things she loved to do (her interest in animals and nature) and how she always slept with her stuffed chimpanzee Jubilee. She dreamed of growing up to see Africa and take care of animals and when she grew up, her dream came true. It has lovely illustrations, some from her actual childhood notebooks, and a little biography at the end. I actually cried when I read it in the bookstore. If you want a book with a strong female lead and a great message and beautiful illustrations, look no further. That is my plug.

  6. Funny you should mention that, because we got my kids these: and yes, it was totally my husbands’ idea. By the way, he originally wanted these: which I think are actually more user-friendly than the set we ended up getting, but they don’t appear to be on the market any more. If anyone knows how to buy them, let me know.

  7. Does anyone give their kids Playmobils? We had them growing up and still love them so much that everyone (adults included) still get them for Christmas. I think they can be a lot more gender-neutral than legos. They do have some heavily gendered ones (dollhouse in pink packaging) but there is lots of middle ground. My favorite growing up was our castle set. You put the pieces of the castle together in whatever configuration you want. The cool part was my brother and I both loved it. He was always attacking it with knights and so on. I was always rearranging it like a medieval dollhouse with my princess and handsome bearded king figure.

    Playmobil makes such a huge variety of figures that you can really have every possible future profession represented. My personal favorite is the bank robber set that they have recently come out with. Your child can fantasize about being a teller OR a criminal. Either way.

  8. Hi there! This article couldn’t be written any better! Looking at this article reminds me of my previous roommate!
    He continually kept preaching about this. I’ll forward this information to him.
    Pretty sure he’ll have a very good read. I appreciate you for sharing!

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