When I was seven years old, I played with a great number of toys, but my greatest obsession was my Kit Kittredge American Girl Doll. My sister and I played out intricate plot lines with Kit and her various doll friends, and watched the accompanying movie detailing her adventures. Kit’s 1930s backstory described her devotion to writing and getting published in the town newspaper, and so the doll’s prized accessory was her shiny typewriter. After months of playing with Kit, I knew I wanted to be just like her. I wore the Kit doll’s gold necklace as a bracelet to school, and I cut my hair to match her chin length style. But the most important thing I copied from Kit was writing; it was my new dream to grow up to be an author. I would set Kit at her typewriter while I sat on the floor next to her, writing madly away.
A few pieces of scratch paper later, I had my first fictional tale about the exciting life of a woman who lives in the jungle, complete with crayon doodles and stickers. While I now realize my “book” lacked conflict, character development, and proper grammar, at the time I believed it to be a masterpiece. Writing became exciting for me, and I could appreciate literature more and did not view reading and writing as strictly educational activities. Over my elementary school years my writing improved and I even won a few short story awards in local competitions. Before I played with Kit, writing to me was a tedious school chore; something to be dreaded. My change of heart was due entirely to my favorite doll.
The moral of the story is that toys have significance: they show children what the world is like and what is possible for their future. What they play with does matter. As a young girl, I never saw writing as a real possibility for a career. But toys opened up my horizons, as they have done for many children.
Oftentimes playthings that youth receive signal to them what their parents believe they can become. Boys and girls frequently receive and subsequently play with different types of toys. For example, many boys play with miniature cars, and many girls play with dolls. This occurrence can foster a boy’s interest in automobiles and cause girls to develop a predilection for fashion. While this outcome is not inherently bad, it is simply important to be conscious of the possible impact of toys. Being aware will reveal the advantages of giving kids, and girls specifically, a wide array of toys.
According to a 2011 report from the U.S. Department of Commerce: Economics and Statistics Administration, women had only 24% of the jobs in math and science related fields. One possible explanation for the gender difference is that girls are simply not exposed to the idea that they could even pursue of future in math and science.
Girls have been deterred from engineering-type careers because of the stigma in our society that they are masculine jobs. Now that our community is trying to get girls interested in such subjects, it is important that we relay this new encouraging message in multiple aspects of their lives. We can inspire girls to reach for things previously denied to them through cultural facets of their days such as movies, books, and toys.
In film or literature, a strong female lead can demonstrate to girls their inner potential, and any woman’s career path shown then seems more achievable. Similarly, toys hold the same power and influence over young girls. If girls grow up not knowing their gender can be a hindrance, they will be more likely to attempt and succeed in male dominated fields. Showing girls that they can be anything is not difficult: it can all start with their toys.
Letting girls play with all types of toys, including those marketed towards boys, can help show them that their gender, while a key piece of their identity, does not define every feature of their lives. Other toys are also being made that are both appealing to and empowering for girls. One example of this are the Career Dolls made by Build & Imagine, which are magnetic dolls that can be dressed up with different occupational outfits.
Girls already love the concept of magnetic dress up dolls, and Build & Imagine presents a new twist. Instead of dressing the wooden dolls up as only singers and dancers like other toys, the Career Dolls can be dressed to go to work as not only singers and dancers, but also as astronauts, doctors, and other various jobs. One mother loved that her daughter dresses up the dolls as firefighters, tweeting that it’s great to see how the Career Dolls are changing the way girls view stereotypically gender-specific jobs:
Some faculty at Milwaukee Public Schools are incorporating Career Dolls into their kindergarten classrooms with hopes of showing girls through play that any future is possible. One teacher shared with us his thoughts on the value and impact of Career Dolls:
“Our personal success is… influenced by our surrounding community. The girls we worked with are unlikely to have a role model in their life that has an engineering degree or science background. The Career Dolls allowed our young ladies to dream beyond what the see everyday and several of them declared that they would become astronauts so that they could be among the first to explore Jupiter up close. ”
Toys can encourage girls to explore new avenues of life in the same way that Kit inspired me. Today, showing girls multiple career options is a bit more difficult than it should be, but by making a few mindful decisions as a parent, you can change your daughter’s life.
Build & Imagine’s Career Dolls- Shop Now
Want to inspire her to dream big while providing hours of imaginative play? This small but mighty set of wooden dress-up characters comes with 79 magnetic accessories and two backgrounds scenes to inspire kids to dream of 12 action packed careers, including video game designer, space explorer, chef, super hero, president, and police detective. The vinyl carrying case it comes in makes it travel friendly.
Build & Imagine’s Marine Rescue Center- Shop Now
Young minds will develop foundational STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art and mathematics) skills with this magnetic building + storytelling playset that bridges left and right brain play. Construct the magnetic panels into a building or boat, then take the included doll Thea on a sea worthy adventure to rescue and rehabilitate her marine animal friends. The Marine Rescue Center works with other Build & Imagine play-sets too, so you can grow your story alongside your child’s budding building skills.