Boys toys vs. girl toys. Photo by Scott Ableman via Flick CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

Boys vs. Girls: What’s In Your Toy Chest?

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Boys toys vs. girl toys. Photo by Scott Ableman via Flick CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.
Boys toys vs. girl toys. Photo by Scott Ableman via Flick CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

Among all of us writing for GeekMom, we certainly cover a wide array of opinions and experiences. Especially so when it comes to toys. Some of us grew up with geek parents who desperately pushed us away from girly toys, some of us rebelled against our doll-loving moms, some of us let our boys play with pink ponies if they so choose, and some of us cringe every time our daughters pick up Barbies.

Me personally? I grew up with only a brother and ended up going into Computer Science. I don’t shun my feminine side, but my comfort zone is being one of the guys, if not by preference then simply by experience.

Now I am raising a 3-year-old daughter and expecting another girl in a few months. I never imagined I’d spend my home life surrounded with girls; in fact at some point I might have considered that a worst case scenario. Yet here am I, proud to have a girl who’s growing up to be so incredibly strong and independent, and thrilled to get the chance to do it all over again with girl #2.

Nonetheless, I still often worry about what kind of message I want to give them, and that starts with what kind of toys I choose to allow in my house. I don’t believe a child needs so many specialized toys, so helping me keep a small inventory is a solid organization. I try to keep our selection to basic, simple toys and keep them sorted in bins by category:

  • Transportation: Trains, train tracks, cars, airplanes.
  • Pretend play: Hand puppets, bird costume, mask and cape.
  • Pretend food: Tea pot and service set, picnic box and plastic foods.
  • Lego: Duplo blocks.
  • Plastic odds and ends: Figurines, Hexbugs, binoculars, magnifying glass, dinosaurs and animals, prisms, bags and containers, playing cards, etc.
  • Music instruments
  • Puzzles: Jigsaw puzzles, magnets tiles, marble run.
  • Crafts (self-directed): Scissors, paper, glue sticks, crayons and pencils, play dough.
  • Stuffed animals: My daughter could not care less about them, yet we always seem to be accumulating more of them somehow. (Ah-hem. I have a soft spot in my heart for them, that’s why.)
  • Video games: Too many to list! (Okay, fine. So I have a soft spot for a few things.)
  • Books: Small books, big books, books about daring girls, books about daring boys. We have a ton of them.
  • Outside: Water table, balls, Frisbee, gardening tools.
  • Out of reach items (the things that require strict supervision): The messy supplies for adult-directed craft time, science experiment tools, Rock Band, an old trumpet she can practice on, grown-up Lego, board games, etc.

I think everything in this list is fairly gender neutral, except maybe for the pink tea set that would probably be labeled as a girl toy. And I guess the transportation toys would be labeled as a boy toys. But overall, I think it’s a pretty unisex crowd of toys.

The most important message I’m sending my girls is this: Should I had been raising boys instead, the list of toys we provided them would have been exactly the same.

There’s still a part of me wondering if it’s weird that I don’t have, for example, a single doll in the house. My daughter hasn’t shown interest in them, so it’s not like I’m forbidding her to explore traditionally female toys. I suppose if one day she shows interest in them then I won’t deny her. The same would be just as true if I had a boy who showed interest in them. But until my daughter shows interest for any particular toy category—and if anything so far she’s shown us that she doesn’t have much interest in toys at all—this is the ultimate set of toys that I would want my child to start with, boy or girl.

So let me ask you this, what toys do you have in your house? Would they be any different if you had children of a different sex?

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8 thoughts on “Boys vs. Girls: What’s In Your Toy Chest?

  1. We have a seven year old son and a four and a half year old daughter. Our list reads pretty much the same as yours. Add in a wooden doll house that both kids play with, board games, and lots of blocks. We have two baby dolls: A well worn baby boy that our son loved as a toddler, and an ignored baby girl that our daughter received as a gift. The kids mostly play together and it’s mostly with stuffed animals. Lego bricks are everywhere and the Friends line just entered our home.
    Great piece. Great and fascinating topic.


  2. I’ve got one boy and one girl. They have always tended to enjoy toys that are traditionally identified with their gender however we encourage them to pursue play in the way that they enjoy, so I’m ok with this. If The Girl Child really enjoys playing with dolls, I just don’t see denying her them just because I’m afraid of it sending a message of accepting traditional roles. It also goes the other way — if The Boy Child really enjoys playing with dolls, I don’t deny him a doll because it is a non-traditional toy for a boy.

    My children have diverse interests, just like anyone else’s and their toys reflect that. My son loves Legos but also enjoys playing house with the dolls. My daughter loves to play barbies and do their hair but then she joins them up with the jedi action figures to save the universe. So, we have toys that support all of that — barbies, ponies, legos, action figures, tea sets, plastic food, nerf guns, capes, tiaras, lightsabers, fairies, etc — and everyone plays with everything. I’m pretty confident that if we had 2 boys or 2 girls instead of 1 girl, 1 boy, we’d have whatever toys supported their interests.

    But I can’t help thinking that we worry a bit too much about the message a toy sends, especially since it is not given in a vacuum. My husband and I tell our children every day in a variety of ways that we think they are smart, capable, and talented kids that are loved and valued for who they are – not because they live up to some invisible checklist of characteristics that society has made up for them. We show them every day that individuals are diverse and don’t fit into boxes by not fitting into boxes ourselves and by encouraging and loving them for being themselves. I truly believe that sends a much stronger message than any toy.

  3. Great post Ariane! I didn’t own a single doll until my sister came along and wanted them (I was probably 7-8 years old by then). Then I would get one as well. Until then had a lot of imaginative play sets, such as the classic Fisher Price Farm (, play cars, animals, and food. I remember having this (shudder) McDonald’s play set too. It was one of my favorite toys:

    I consider those types of play sets pretty gender-neutral.

    Once I got older, though — I had Cabbage Patch kids, Barbies, and even a fancy Barbie house, Corvette and horse stables. Sigh…

    My sons have very *boy* toys with the exception of their stuffed animals. They each have a TON of stuffed animals and they play with them more than anything else. More than their Nerf guns, LEGOs, and video games put together. They build houses, restaurants, schools, and make up these fancy personalities for many of them. They have incredible imaginative play together and I couldn’t be more proud.

    Like you, I went into the sciences. But I’m not sure the dolls or not having dolls had anything to do with it. My parents didn’t encourage/discourage the dolls per se, but they didn’t present us with any unless we asked for them.

  4. Thanks for this great post! I cringe walking past the pink aisles at the store so I’m really trying to keep all my relatives from gifting only dolls and pink things to my daughter (doesn’t work but I try). My little on is almost 18 months and so far she really likes toys that she can throw, dancing, and stuffed animals. We have to have a stuffed animal with us where ever we go! I bought her a stuffed tiger that looks like Hobbes and she carries him around and I just love it.

  5. Most of the ‘girl toys’ we have (we have 2 girls so far, pg with a 3rd sex unknown)… were purchased by other people. We bought puzzles, blocks, cars, farm set, magna doodle, etc. most of it is GN and that’s the way we like it. We would not shun a boy from using our picnic set or dolls (my old cabbage patch has made it’s way into the older one’s arms, with more in a tote, the 2nd child will get one this birthday, right before baby #3 arrives)… I think all kids should learn to ‘care’ for babies. Yes, even boys. How else do they practice being good daddies?

  6. I have a 3 year old girl and a 9 month old boy. My girl’s “girl” toys have mostly been gifts from relatives, but she also asked for a dump truck and loves to dig in the dirt. I wonder if, outside of cultural influence, kids would even gravitate towards gender-based toys. The only reason my daughter knows about princesses is daycare.

  7. I have a 4 year old girl and a 10 month old girl. I do not look at toys as gender specific. I do look at toys as age appropriate, or family belief appropriate, but beyond that, I don’t intend to tell my girls “no, that’s a boy toy”. I’m just watching to see what they choose.

    My 4 year old has lincoln logs, legos, cars, planes, super hero stuff, barbie stuff, dolls, and a penchant for video games. My 10 month old likes to taste ALL THE THINGS. *shrug* I might have to be more concerned if we ever have a boy, because my husband still takes issue with gendered toys, getting a little more harumphy about boys playing with “girl toys.” Burn that bridge if we get there, I guess! 😉

    As I see it, childhood is about imaginative play, and I do not believe that girls playing with trucks will hurt their future gender identity. I’m quite comfortable in my womanly self, and I grew up climbing trees and playing baseball with the boys and saving the princess from Bowser. Just sayin. 🙂

  8. My daughters are 4 1/2 and just turned 2. I was and still am adamant that they will not be given specifically designed pink, girly princess stuff in any form (clothes/toys/DVDs) and have explained to the elder one that mummy and daddy think it’s wrong to only give boys and girls one sort of toy. We joined a campaign here in the UK called Pink Stinks

    They have wooden blocks, cars, trains, planes, rockets, lego and Duplo, pretend food and a play cooker, bikes, ride-ons, soft toys and baby dolls, dressing up clothes (the super hero cape is a favourite), plastic animal and people figures, art and craft stuff. No barbies and no disney.

    The four year old has entitled herself Queen _____ of _____ Land, kung fu master, jedi knight, super hero and has requested Iron Man figures for her birthday. She is utterly obsessed with Star Wars at the moment after we let her watch the original trilogy. All her plastic toy figures are now characters from the Avengers or Star Wars and she has made space ships out of her lego blocks. OMG I have a geek 4 year old!

    The little one was given a Little Tikes car, some wooden puzzles, a wooden house with 4 lockable doors (the keys are a big thing at the moment), a plastic bus and figures, a Fisher Price cash register and a bubble machine for her birthday last week. Entirely gender neutral gifts as it turns out and not planned in anyway.

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