All kids — boys and girls — are hands-on creatures, so playing with blocks and brick toys meets that natural desire to discover and shape the world through their own hands.
- Parker Barry
“Wow. I’m really impressed by me,” my teenage daughter, Elena, said when she recently discovered a photo of her 5-year-old self with her LEGO creations on display at our local library. There she was, smiling proudly, as she showed off her own designs of animals, spaceships, vehicles and more.
Like Elena, all kids — boys and girls — are hands-on creatures, so playing with blocks and brick toys meets that natural desire to discover and shape the world through their own hands.
What kids use to build that world with can make a big impact on how they view their role within it. If boys and girls play only with blocks or LEGO sets designed to appeal to their supposed preferences in colors and themes, can it limit what they think they can or should like? Might it even shape their views about the opposite gender?
According to the National Science Foundation, as recently as 2009, women accounted for only 12 percent of engineers in the U.S., and according to the Girl Scouts, a 2012 query of girls showed 57 percent of girls still don’t even consider entering STEM careers. Perhaps the more that girls play with engineering and building toys like LEGO, the more they can begin to see STEM careers as fun, achievable options for them, too.
Every kid in my family quite literally built their love of LEGO upon the previous one’s fascination with this timeless, open-ended toy. It just so happened that the first two LEGO lovers in my family were girls and their first 405-piece set was gender neutral, which may have helped set the tone for all three of them that building anything is for everyone.
No matter who or what sparks your kid’s love of LEGO, blocks and similar building toys, the tips below can help keep these amazing toys equal opportunity:
- 1. Begin building play early with wooden blocks; large, toddler-friendly brick toys like Duplo; and other toys that babies and toddlers can stack and connect together but that are not choking hazards.
- 2. Avoid sending subtle messages that building is just for boys. Buy blocks and brick toys for both daughters and sons, and mix the colors and themed pieces.
- 3. Keep a variety of LEGO toys on hand, even if your kid shows a clear preference for gender-targeted sets. Then storylines can progress wherever your kid’s mind may go. With enough varied pieces, the imaginary story that begins in a princess carriage may end in a space station or undersea world — or vice versa.
- 4. Support your kids’ interest by asking open-ended questions about their creations, finding creative ways to affordably add to their collection and offering to display their works at home (or even in public, like at the library). Take them to LEGO events or clubs where they can meet other girls and boys who love building, too.