Somewhere along the line, toymakers decided to divide the world into pink and blue. Boys got trucks, construction sets, and action figures. And girls got princess dresses, play houses, and leggy dolls with post-pubescent curves and Malibu mansions. And many parents got headaches. Why? Because the point of toys really is to spark kids’ natural curiosities and enhance their development — not reinforce strict gender norms (and let’s not even talk about the problems it creates for hand-me-downs). In fact, studies have shown that it’s developmentally beneficial for girls and boys to play with a variety of toys and that heavily gendered toys are less likely to promote cognitive development than gender-neutral ones.
Not only do gender-neutral toys allow kids across the spectrum to develop a wider range of skills (e.g., spatial resonating, verbal and creative skills), they also help limit the impact of rigid stereotypes dictating who they should be and what aspirations they should have.
The good news is toymakers and even some retailers have gotten wise. More and more toys are cropping up that put the emphasis on the imagination and development — without being shellacked in pink, blue, or camo. Here are some of our favorites.
Little Bits Rule Your Room
Little Bits are modular electronic components that let kids customize their own crazy inventions — it may sound a little complicated, but it’s highly accessible. This kit has instructions for eight ingenious privacy-protecting creations including Burglar Buzzer, Domain Defender, Top Secret Safe as well as inspiration for many more. Just be on the look out next time you’re dropping off fresh laundry.
Stop Motion Claymation Kit
Kids create characters out of clay and set them up on a miniature stage equipped with backdrops and props. Then they borrow your phone to make a stop motion movie that Charlie Kaufman would be jealous of. A detailed guidebook talks them through it.
Kids never tire of Magna Tiles. Trust me, they’re propped up my coffee table just about every day. This addictive building set let’s kids imagination run wild while they get a sly lesson in geometry and physics.
Marble Coaster Kit
Deliciously analog, with this kit kids build a roller coaster out of wooden parts and then give their marbles a spin. It's powered by a hand crank, so no batteries are required, and the instructions are in graphic novel form.
The Loog guitar simplifies things for little hands — it has three strings as opposed to the standard six, which makes the learning process a little easier. Kid-friendly flashcards guide every strum. The electric version is awesome, too.
Parker the Interactive Bear Patient
Not your average doctor kit, this one lets kids use augmented reality to check the Teddy Bear’s temperature, give him an X-ray and help cure his ailments.
Seedling Design Your Own Headphones
Headphones are a tween rite of passage, this kit lets them design their own! It includes a pair of white headphones, plus craft supplies for making them one of a kind.
Better than a castle, this geodesic dome tent lets kids live out their Martian landing fantasies. If only Matt Damon had one.
Plan Balancing Cactus
This simple but wondrous sculptural building toy is one that mom likes to steal — not only is it a fun and educational balance game, it’s totally down with the cactus trend.
Future coders get to program this caterpillar: They connect different segments to make it go forward, left, right, or wherever they like.
Turn the backyard into a safari exhibition with this bug and critter shack. Kids can collect and observe frogs, fish, lizards, crawfish, or snakes — fine as long as they don’t bring them in the house!
My First Science Kit
This science kit is ideal for the curious-minded. Grow watery crystals, create a rainbow in a plate, and explore the science of color.
Melissa and Doug Loom
Just how awesome is this weaving loom? Kids can make tapestries, bags, scarves, and potholders mom will never throw away. Plus, it’s great for developing fine motor skills.
Moulin Roty Tool Set
A real tool set for the young woodworker from brilliant French toymaker Moulin Roty — my daughter got this as a gift and it immediately became an obsession. By the way, the saw is dull so everybody gets to keep their fingers.
This modular building set can be wired up with lights and motors — it's an exploratory, open-ended toy any kid would be fascinated by.
Kids get to construct the fantasy fort of their dreams with these wood printed cardboard panels that connect firmly with Velcro.
Metro Line Building Kit
This is not merely a racetrack, but a whole cityscape that kids get to design and set up. It's ideal for co-ed playdates.
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