Gender stereotyping in toys may play a role in children's development

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah (ABC4 News) - The toys and activities kids choose, and the ones adults steer them towards, have a lasting impact. A report from the Institution for Engineering and Technology suggests that these differences in play may contribute to the gender gap in STEM careers.

Dr. Douglas Goldsmith, the Executive Director of The Children's Center in Salt Lake City, explains, “If we're walking through a toy store...we take the boys down the building aisle, and we say, ‘What are you going to build? What are you going to construct?’ We don't really take the girls. We're showing the girls the dolls, and the Barbie's, we don't take the boys down the Barbie aisle.” 

Dr. Goldsmith says these simple things are teaching children important skills, but there needs to be more overlap. He says doing things like letting little boys play with dolls is good for their development. 

“That's a positive thing for little kids to do, is to play out relationships. It's also just as important for little girls to play with LEGOs, and learn how to construct, and learn how to think in those kinds of more spatial terms,” says Dr. Goldsmith, “...All of this is really very stereotypical play, and what's great and helpful is for the parents to sort of pull back and think about exposing children to different activities.”

Some schools, like Neighborhood House in Salt Lake City, are choosing to focus more on STEM lessons and project based learning. 

Felicia Callaway, a Kindergarten teacher at the Neighborhood House says, “We go off of what the kids want to learn about...we throw out different materials, and then we sit back and observe as they play, and then we go from their direction of what we want to learn about.” 

Parents at the school say this approach has proved successful in allowing kids to explore their interests and avoid gender stereotyping as much as possible.

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