Toys for girls and boys

It’s party central here at the moment. We went to a 4th birthday party last weekend: my daughter (4) and son (5) were both invited. The birthday girl had chosen a pink dress, a pink bow in her hair, and she got a pink castle cake. But, what was refreshing, is that she also chose the theme Bugs and Creepy Crawlies, with the table decked out with The Hungry Caterpillar napkins, tablecloth, etc. Party games were a bug hunt, and there was a craft activity where the children made a butterfly and later a bug. Knowing this girl and her parents, I know that the guests (slightly more boys than girls), but also the theme, activities, cake and outfit will have been the birthday girl’s own choice. I just love that it wasn’t one or the other, and the parents didn’t insist on 1 theme that covered cake, party theme and party outfit, but that it could be a fun mixture of all the things this 4-year-old loves.


The day before we’d been to a 5th birthday Pirate’s party, where the pirate theme had been worked into a few jokey decorations and party games. It was fun (I love the pirate theme in itself) but the girls that were invited were not up for getting their faces painted as pirates, but chose to be cats instead… I take my (pirate) hat off to the parents in charge who quickly adapted and incorporated the cat idea in the games, but I felt it was a real shame that these girls, at 5 years old, were already opposing the pirates idea as being for boys, not for them!

Party bags are standard now, and so often, these are done along gender lines as well. So at the end of the party, a boy guest will get different things (football pencil and pad) to a girl guest (pink swirly lines on glittery pencil and pad). Why are these parents making extra work for themselves, while limiting the children in the process?

But it’s surprisingly difficult to find party themes, party bag fillers, birthday cards, even wrapping paper that is not blue or pinkish, football or fairy-related, but just simply suitable for all children.

Try good old IKEA for wrapping paper and small gift packs (finger puppets etc) for splitting up into party bags.

For party bags, keep it simple with plain colours like these:

or these:

In terms of themes, animals are pretty genderneutral (usually it’s a farm or jungle theme), but I feel that simply sticking to plain blocks of colours gets the party message across just as well! For my daughter’s 4th birthday, we bought party bags with smilies on 

filled them with whistle lips  

and rings (very popular! I heard one 3-year-old boy say to his mum he now had a ring to match hers).

You can also use a book that your child likes: the Cat in the Hat, for instance. Colourful wrapping paper can be like this, Mr Men and Little Ms combined on the same sheet: 

Dots, lines or stars:

Where’s Wally:

(Whenever we’ve used the Where’s Wally party pack for present wrapping, it’s always been a hit with the birthday boy or girl: sometimes it gets more attention than the present itself.)

Birthday cards are pretty much all divided along gender lines, even if the number is the main feature on the card. I bulk buy these in advance, as I get frustrated with the limited choice when I have to buy in a hurry. What I’d love to see is a range of cards with an initial on: young kids like to recognise their own letter, and you can decorate it with things that start with the same letter, avoiding the stereotypical items for each gender. You can of course make these yourself: just buy plain cards and get creative with your children!  


Our children had a friend to play. Mine are a 5-year old boy (J), and a 3-year-old girl (L) and the friend is 6 years old (S). See if you can guess the gender of the friend…

Picture it:
6-year-old (S) dressed up as a knight
5-year-old (J) dressed up as a viking
3-year-old (L) dressed up as a cuddly dalmatian dog

On seeing the viking getting a toy axe out of the dress-up box, S said: “I wish I’d brought my sword!”. When a spare sword has been found, a “fight” takes place in the living room. The cuddly dalmatian tries to sort out a lead for herself while the fight is taking place.

While working in the kitchen, I see them walking past in a little parade: dalmatian (L) on the lead attached to a bright pink buggy that’s being pushed by the knight, with viking proudly marching behind. They walk around the house like this for a bit. When I next see them all in the living room, a tea party is in full swing.

Seconds later, they all run past me in the hallway to the trampoline outside (still in costume). All the footballs (my partner is a football coach), basketballs, tennis balls etc end up on the trampoline to be kicked about.

Next they run back in, and stop in the kitchen to think what to do next. My son suggests they play “mums and dads and babies” (an old favourite, as long as he can be mum). 6-year-old dismisses this idea and suggest they go to the giant blackboard in the hallway instead for “scribbling”. All happily join in with this idea. The 2 older ones do this for quite some time, filling the entire black wall with curly squiggles, while the 3-year-old pours a drink for all the children.

At the end of it all, as the friend is picked up (as is so often the case, to get children to leave without too much fuss), the friend asks to borrow the roaring dinosaur toy we got from the Natural History museum over 3 years ago (one of our best toy buys, but I can’t find a link to it!)

So… is the friend a boy or a girl?

Does it matter? To me today stood out, not because it was an unusual scene (it’s not), but because this was such a lovely contrast from a boy who visited us earlier in the week. This 5-year-old boy angrily dismissed every dress-up item my daughter suggested to him as being “girly” or “not for boys”. But also, trying to find a knight’s outfit for a girl to illustrate this story has only thrown up ones that specify that it’s a boy’s outfit! I want this to be a positive blog, so I won’t rant, but I really don’t get why we limit our children’s play, their imagination and their friendships even by making them believe there are ‘correct’ toys or dress-up clothes for their gender? *sigh*

So added to my To Do list are a post on dressing up clothes (as suggested by Esther from Stella Blue in a comment on this blog) and a list of the fantastic people, blogs and websites that are fighting the limitations and gender stereotyping that toy manufacturers are putting on our children.

(Friend S was a girl, by the way)

There are some toys that just invite children to play with someone else, be it boys or girls.  The three types listed below are always popular in our house, with boys and girls, and the children usually team up with another child or an adult to play with them.

Tea set

Children love playing with tea sets (do they still see people pouring tea in cups from a pot?). It’s easy for another child or children to join in the game, and that makes it a great ice breaker, I’ve noticed, when new children come to play.  The look of the tea sets can sometimes be quite girl focused, unfortunately, even though boys like playing with it just as much, especially in a makeshift tent or den or hiding place. But there are plenty of non-gender typical ones: here’s a selection, but hopefully you can find others fairly easily (amongst the pink or flowery ones…)
We have three or four play tea sets in the house. My favourite is something similar to this, and not only is it genderneutral, it also neatly packs away in the little basket. Perfect for travelling too. [Ours doesn’t have the pink ribbons, but they look easy enough to take off]

  I just love the look of this colourful one! And the fact that it’s a metal one makes it so easy to play with for various ages. They can pour proper drinks with it, wash it up, it doesn’t break etc. Tea sets are also great bath toys (we have a plastic set that lives in the bathroom), but do mind that your kids don’t end up drinking their bath water! We store our tin one in a little suitcase, and there’s a plastic set in a basket in the bathroom, as it needs to dry after use.

Shop till

The simple little shop till we have also very much captures children’s imagination, and you can get them very cheaply. Our son and daughter always play this together: one as the customer, one as the till person. Anything in the room can be part of the shop.

This one is a classic (the grandparents have an original that still works): our kids both love it, even though they don’t so much pretend to have a shop with this one. It’s more of a sorting toy for them. Just getting the coins to fit in and come out again seems to be interesting enough.

 The more modern version like this one is very popular at home. I’ve lost count of the number of times we’ve played shops. I love most that they don’t think anything of charging you £58 for an apple, or 50p for (your own) mobile phone… Most of the additional bits that came with the till got lost along the way, but they aren’t missed and the till remains popular all the same. The till can be as elaborate as you like – you can go for a whole shop if you want – but I like to keep it simple. As long as there are buttons to press and a drawer opening for the (pretend) money, the kids will get the idea and play for hours.

Doctor’s set

And finally, a doctor’s set. One of the toys that children bring to their parents to play with, so not so much a co-operative toy to play with other children with (not many children like being the patient, they all want to be the doctor somehow). Another toy that tends to come with its own storage solution: brilliant, as it’s easy for travelling and tidy up time.

I thought I would share this on 3 May, World Press Freedom Day. Loesje is organizing a special and international action day, called “World Sticking Day” (Loesje = a world wide collective of people who want to make the world a more positive creative place: you can find more about them here:
Who is Loesje?

Loesje is an idealistic organisation which aims for a creative society based on own initiative and active citizenship. The objective is to exchange ideas and opinions, to stimulate people to create their own ideas. Loesje mainly uses posters with short but strong texts (one-liners), which shine a different light on particular subjects. Their main activity is to create such posters, together with their members, as well as with people from other organisations. The posters are spread on the Internet, around the streets, in community centres, schools etc. The aims of the organisation are to spread black and white posters to colour life and to create possibilities, in which participants of Loesje activities can start and support progressive social initiatives.

This one isn’t about toys, but my children seem to enjoy books as much, if not more, than any toy, plus it is gender related, for both the parent and the children, so bear with me…

My husband loves to read with our children and they get through many, many books a day. One of the things that gets to me though, is that so many books assume that the mum is the main carer. Even if that is the case, it doesn’t need reinforcing all the time, and it might encourage dads to read more with their children. I’ve not found many, but here are some books for babies and toddlers (although we still like reading some of these with my 5-year-old).

I really like this book Hug by Jez Alborough, and it has hardly any words in, but it does use the word Mummy on the last page, when, from the picture, it could so easily have said Daddy! Or Grandpa! It’s really not nice for dads to read books like that, I imagine.  So my advice would be to just replace the last word ‘Mummy’ by ‘Daddy’, or ‘Grandad’ or someone’s name even. The kids can’t read yet anyway: they are not likely to challenge you on it (plus, it’s all for a good cause).  But it can be done differently…

A book that are not too obviously gender specific for child or parent is this one:  “You and me, Little Bear” (I haven’t read all the books in this series,  so I can only vouch for this one!) Neither the Big Bear or the Little Bear are specifically male or female. Although both are referred to as ‘he’ in the text, so must be male, they are mainly called Big Bear or Little Bear. When I asked my children which gender they thought the bears were, my son said a Baby boy and a Mama bear, and my daughter said a Baby girl and a Daddy bear. So quite open to interpretation anyway. The bears do chores and games that boys and girls, men and women can imagine doing. It is a lovely story to read, and we often quote from it when we are doing something with one child: “you and me, little bear, we’ll do it together.”

Now this one truly is genderfree! “I like it when… by Mary Murphy.” The adult penguin and the child penguin are both not any specific gender. The book takes you through a typical day in the life of a toddler or young child. It’s such a simple idea, but such a heartwarming story, I really really love it, and so do both my children.

I hope to add  more to this list, so if you know of any books that fit the criteria, do let me know!


For a long time, my boy wasn’t really interested in toy cars. Friends would bring their sons round, and that’s when the cars _would_ get played with: they would be lined up in rows, or other ways of playing that didn’t seem to have much to do with the fact that the toy had wheels.

When he was nearly two, his sister was born, and as a present from the baby (to help with the transition to Big Brother), we gave him this bus:

And he loved it! It’s still being played with, now he’s 5 and his sister (who’s 3 now) loves playing with it too.

He was also given a baby doll and a buggy, to push the doll around it. The doll wasn’t that interesting to him, but he (and practically every little boy that’s been here since) has taken a real shine to the buggy. I don’t like buggies myself, so I don’t know what it is, but little girls and little boys really do love a toy buggy! Unfortunately, they are all marketed at girls, and therefore pink. My sister went to many, many shops to find one that was blue-ish in colour, but she couldn’t even find a green, yellow, or red one! I really don’t get this obsession with all the pink. Even online it’s very hard to find one that isn’t pink, but I found one! Here it is:

For us, this little foldaway one worked brilliantly, as they like to take it out and about, sometimes for hours, sometimes for 10 minutes or less…. this type of buggy folds up small and can be put in a bag easily to be carried home by any adult.

Here’s another pram that is very popular with both our two: they have one of these at my mum’s house.

Back to the wheels on toys though: for adults the fascination is not very clear,  but all children seem to love the bin men and their bin lorry, in real life and in toy versions. We have this one, and many girls that come to play make a beeline for it:

And yes, it has got a man and a woman working on the lorry! I love the idea of Wow! toys, as they don’t need batteries.

We have another bin lorry, which I can’t find online anymore, but it’s similar to this one. It wasn’t really aimed at children quite as young as mine were, but they loved it from day 1. The mechanism properly works, and it fascinates toddlers no end, tipping the bins out into the lorry. I can’t see any harm in them playing with it (note: I haven’t seen this one in real life, so can’t guarantee it’s toddler-safe, but it looks good for preschoolers/5+)

Dolls houses

My boy has always been interested in dolls houses in other people’s houses, so we got him a simple, wooden one for Christmas one year: one just like this.
He wasn’t interested for very long (the main attraction seemed to have been opening doors and window shutters, which this one didn’t have), so we kept on the look out for other ones that he might like.

The doll’s house that’s most attractive to both boys and girls in our house, is this one: the Duplo Family House. It was an inspired buy from the grandparents. All kids love to build the house in different ways, or play with what’s been build and it’s quite good fun for adults to help them with it too. And, most importantly, it has doors that can open.

Most wooden doll’s houses seem pretty genderneutral, but even then, there can be little details that make it a bit too girly for some people to be comfortable giving it to a boy. I love this Everearth Doll’s House for instance, but for some reason, it comes with 2 little girl dolls, no boys.

Another option, is to buy a toy campervan or caravan. We have this one, and again, it’s very popular with all children that come to play. I’m amazed at the detail in the caravan, the pots and pans, a teeny bar of soap, soup ladles, it has the lot! These are very small pieces though, so it’s not really suitable for small children. Even at 3 and 5 years old, mine don’t make the most of all those little items, but even then there’s enough to keep them happily playing with the caravan and the car towing it.

This is the campervan the grandparents have, and again it’s a great success with both our children: setting up the table and chairs outside, etc.

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