So, people who know me know I can get pretty ranty about the gendered stereotyping to which we subject our children. As the proud Mama of (now) both a boy and a girl I suspect I’m only going to get more strident as they grow and develop. The Boy, so far, has been given a pleasing mix of types of toys, most of which I would describe as ‘gender-neutral’ but all of which I suspect would be described by shops and manufacturers as ‘boys’ toys’. It makes me fume that construction toys, vehicles, puzzles and the like are just for boys unless liberally daubed with pink and sparkles. The pinkification of Lego is something that particularly grinds my teeth – what was wrong with the lovely multi-coloured bricks that were already in circulation?
Which brings me to the following list, based upon the predilections of The Boy and his many chums. Periodically (maybe… annually) I will create further lists with suggestions for other age groups. Something tells me it’ll be ‘4 year olds’ next…
1 – A windmill. A cheap yet satisfying gift which gives much pleasure to the recipient and their parents as it’s silent and makes almost no mess. Win.
2- Brio and similar wooden train-tracks and paraphenalia (Big Jigs, Tesco, Ikea etc all do items which work together). It encourages creative play, comes in a variety of colours and can help with numbers and fine motor skills.
3 – Duplo. Lego’s over-sized baby that allows younger children to practice their construction and creativity. The Boy spends many happy hours creating enclosures for his Duplo animals.
4 – Plastic animals and dinos. Yes – yet another silent toy. You see what I’m doing here? These can be picked up at bargainous prices per bag and have a multitude of uses. They can be combined with Duplo (to inhabit dens) and Brio (to be transported). They can make footprints in Playdoh, pose for photos, be used in role plays and help learn about the outside world. Due to their diminutive size and the tendency for 3 year olds to secrete them in various bags and pockets, they also teach children about loss – a valuable life lesson I’m sure you’ll agree.
5 – Play Doh. This is a tricky one. Kids love the bloody stuff. The parent responsible for housecleaning hates it – trust me on this. It gets mashed into carpets and socks and all sorts. Maybe just buy this for kids who live in houses with hard floors, or whose parents you dislike.
6 – Dressing up clothes, particularly hats. It’s easier than you think to stay gender neutral here. Avoid anything to do with Disney and you should be OK. Doctors, Vets, firefighters, cowboys/girls, vikings – all of these come with fun accessories of some sort and encourage great imaginative play and yes, once again, make no fucking noise!
7 – Books. Always a good call as they take up very little space and are widely regarded as educational, plus they’re a good way to get kids to sit still for a bit. We were recently given a copy of ‘You Choose’ which is absolutely fab as it opens up a dialogue between parents and child and encourages their imagination – plus you can drag it out or speed it up as much as you need to to get to bedtime unscathed. Julia Donaldson is also still a good prospect for this age range, or the Alfie books by Shirley Hughes engages with the life lived by this age groups in a great way. In fact, before I get carried away, I may have to just come back and do a whole post on books for three year olds.
8 – Arts and Crafts materials. Crayons and colouring pencils get broken and go missing with extreme regularity, so it’s hard to have too many of these. Colouring and sticker books are also easy but popular choices. I would recommend steering clear of more messy items like glitter glue and paint unless you know the child has a parent willing to engage in such activities (and, more to the point, willing to clear up after them). Foam and felt cut-outs are great though and apparently everything looks better plastered with googly eyes…
9 – An ‘experience’. For a more pricey gift then you could consider buying tickets or vouchers for a family day out – especially welcome if this is something the family can’t afford to do themselves. Peppa Pig is still popular at this age (and she has a whole Peppa Pig World to explore – yay) plus there’s Lego Land and Thomas World, or there are usually Thomas days out at railway stations around the country. Wildlife parks of all sorts wouyld be exciting too – we have the wonderful Cotswold Wildlife Park but there are several dotted across the nation.
10 – A child-proof camera. Have you noticed how besotted small children are with cameras, photos and having their picture taken? They’re so unself-conscious and love to record their version of the world, so if you have the cash to splash there are digital cameras specifically aimed at (and safe for) small children to use. Don’t tell The Boy, but he may be getting one of these soon. Fear not – I will certainly post some of his forays into photography if we do!