I don’t go out and about stocking up on toys for my kiddo and many of his gifts are typically wrapped up sippy-cups, bottle-brushes, and other practical necessities because for him gift-opening is about the act of opening more than it is about what’s inside [friends and family do give real gifts of the playing sort lest you think my son sits in a barren wasteland of a playroom]. Still, he is getting older, and I’ve noticed the contents are beginning to interest him more than days gone by, so this Eid, K and I headed to Target to see what toys, in addition to the Elmo we purchased him, were available.
Outside of one trip to Toys-R-Us to outfit his playroom with an easel and some musical instruments, I haven’t really gone down toy sections with the intent of purchasing. To say the inventory disheartened me is an understatement. I went thinking I’d find a kid’s doctor’s kit, or a diorama box, or other things that would serve as jump starts to creative play. Yeah, no. All toys were divided into boy sections and girl sections. The girl section pink and frilly and the boy section blue and gray and so very boyish. Each section was further subdivided into not puzzle section, make believe section, but instead, corporate logos. Star Wars, Toy Story, Spiderman. Now don’t get me wrong, my son just got an Elmo, but its one thing to have some corporate toys, its another thing when every single kids item at a store is brand-name-only and specific to scenes in a show or movie.
Attempting to find something for my son that would not be an advertisement for a cartoon company, I went to the toy kitchens: all pink and purple with images of grinning girls in frocks. Don’t get me wrong. My son has a pink stroller and a lavender tea seat and I’m fine with it but the whole color-coded and thus gender-appropriate marketing messages is just getting pretty damn old. What is the message? Boys can’t cook? They can’t push their children in strollers or pour tea for pretend friends? Why on earth are these simple activities of human life taboo in the toy aisle? Didn’t we move beyond these limits as a culture?
I just read an article on NPR about the rise of the toy industry in the past decades and the steady push for corporate toys telling us to play with those things they’ve created shows and movies around and showing us how to play, with sounds and voices for things which children once used to imagine the voices and sounds for. These toys are rapidly depleting our children’s creativity and intelligence by taking away their self regulation and executive function skills. I read a book a few months back that discussed that television is not just bad for young ones because of the higher odds of ADHD and other attention issues, but because children then typically act out and make-believe what they see on television which limits the scope and breadth of their imagination since they’re limiting their play acting to what their favorite characters did on their favorite shows, and not instead tapping into the unbridled creativity stored in reserves in the depths of their being.
In the end, after an hour of searching, we purchased some playdoh. And he loved it. I just wish I had more options. And while yes, there are legos, and blocks, and other open-ended toys, on the whole I wish that toy companies wouldn’t gender-box their toys and limit them to TV shows, and instead worked on making toys that did what they’re meant to do: help a child entertain themselves while expanding their minds, creativity, and intelligence in the unbridled way its supposed to grow.
What are your thoughts about this? Seen this yourself in your own local toy stores or is this perhaps a southern thing? Or a Target thing? Would love your perspectives.