Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Princesses Are Not The Problem

I shouldn't really be writing a post tonight. I should be working on getting ready for Christmas. But I had a rough day. First, I wasted half of the day tracking down a bug in a data loading script that turned out to be a "feature" of the vendor-supplied database into which we were loading- a feature that the vendor damn well should have told me about when they suggested I load my data in this particular way. Then my day ended with a contentious meeting that ran 30 minutes late and made me late to pick up the girls at day care, which made me late to get home, which made me have to change my dinner plans. Then both girls had spectacular meltdowns around bath time- Petunia because she wanted to wear her (cloth, not water safe) butterfly wings in the bath and Pumpkin because she didn't want to take a bath for some reason.

So anyway, I'm thinking that maybe ranting some more about toys will be therapeutic. Or maybe not- but these thoughts have been bouncing around in my head and they are distracting me from the things I should be doing, so maybe by writing them down and asking you all what you think I can get on with finishing my #&%$! project at work and getting organized for Christmas at home. As usual with this sort of post, I make no guarantees for a coherent argument. This is a dump of my thoughts on the topic, and I am very interested to read what you think in the comments.

I continue to see reactions to the new "girl" Lego sets I wrote about in my last weekend reading post, and so I continue to think about them. I may not have made this clear in my last post, but I am not exactly thrilled by the idea of gender specific Lego sets. However, I think that the decision to have gender specific sets was made several years ago, when Lego decided to start making a lot of battle-themed sets. Now, I didn't have kids then, so maybe there was an outcry similar to what we're seeing now about the "girl" sets, but I doubt it- which I think is interesting, and says a lot about our culture.

I also think it is worth remembering that Lego started bringing out those "aggressively boy" sets not because they are an evil company intent on reinforcing gender stereotypes, but because they were fighting to survive, and those sets were part of the strategy that brought them back to profitability.

I think that sometimes we forget that toys are mostly made by companies, which exist to make money. They sell us what we will buy. Toys are an interesting consumer item, though, because they are simultaneously a mirror for our culture, showing us through our children's eyes what we are, and a tool by which our culture indoctrinates its newest members.

I am surprised to find myself concluding that princesses aren't the problem, and neither are "girl" Lego sets. The problem is a culture whose norms stratify interests into "boy" and "girl" and thereby work to push girls away from toys that will help grow skills that will help them with math and science in the future (and for that matter, push boys away from toys that will help them practice their nurturing skills).

The frustrating thing about cultural norms is that they are incredibly pervasive and hard to avoid. You would never know it from looking at the amount of Disney Princess crap we now own, but those Princesses were not invited into our lives by me or my husband- or any other adult, really. They came in because of day care. Specifically, because of what the other little girls at day care were talking about. Pumpkin knew all the stories from her friends, and she wanted Princess underwear and Princess bandaids because those are what her friends had. She could show the other little girls her Princess bandaid and they would be impressed, in their three year old way. I didn't really see the point of having a huge fight over bandaids- or underwear, for that matter- and so the Princesses came into our house.

Eventually, I felt bad that Pumpkin seemed so left out of the mainstream of her day care culture, and we decided to get a Disney Princess movie for her to watch. We settled on Cinderella, because it is the least scary- and she is still a child who would prefer her entertainment to be largely free of any tension. We had to talk her through the scene in which Cinderella gets locked in the tower, but once she made it through, she loved that movie, and we made peace with it. 

And now Petunia asks for "Rella" and knows the names of the main mice in the movie. This is not something I ever expected to have happen in my household.

Given all of that, I certainly don't expect parents to fight the cultural norms all on their own. I think it is reasonable to ask for some help from the rest of society. In fact, if I were making the rules, I would require that every ad for a toy show an equal number of boys and girls. There would be girls in the ads for the latest battle toy and boys in the ads for that Barbie head that you use to practice doing hair and putting on makeup. And the toy packaging would have to do the same.

But I'm not making the rules, so I have to navigate the current environment as best as I can. It would be easy to despair, but I think that would be both wrong and defeatist. Our culture is pervasive, but I, as a parent, have a huge role to play in helping my daughters learn how to navigate it. To that end, I try to remember that my end goal is not to raise daughters who hate princesses, but to raise daughters who have the skills and confidence to pursue their interests, whatever they may be.

I will not tell my daughters not to like the Disney Princesses, but I also will not roll over and let Disney tell them what it means to be a princess (or, for that matter, a girl) and I will not let their interest in princesses and other "girl" things deprive them of the chance to play with toys that help them build all their skills.

I will confront the stereotypes, by doing things like reading them The Paper Bag Princess.



And I can subvert the stereotypes, by finding toys that fit their interests and stretch their skills. This isn't as easy as I want it to be- but it also isn't as impossible as some people make out. We adopted a family for Christmas this year, and one of the kids was a six year old girl. She asked for a "flying unicorn toy." As I expected, My Little Pony makes one of those. I was pleasantly surprised, though, to find that they also make a radio-controlled car (which is another great toy for stretching spatial reasoning).



I think it is a stroke of genius that the radio controller looks a bit like a magic wand, which is another thing that princess-obsessed girls love. The store I was at had a two-for-one sale on My Little Pony toys, so the little girl got the car as well as the (to my eyes) less interesting flying unicorn toy.

I love the look of the Castle Logix set, and will probably get that for Pumpkin or Petunia eventually.



(Thanks to FeMOMhist for bringing it to my attention.)

And yes, I may well buy Pumpkin a "girl" Lego set when they come out- it will depend on what the set actually looks like.

If I have to work a little harder than I'd like to find toys that stretch my girls' spatial reasoning and math skills- well, I think it is worth it. And I think that I can I do that with the imperfect toys available today, even while I also speak out to try to change our cultural expectations about what boys and girls like and are good at. In fact, I think that I owe it to my girls to do both of those things. They can't wait for our culture to change, but wouldn't it be great if they don't have to work so hard at this when they have kids of their own?

29 comments:

  1. I'm looking forward to more ideas from you about toys that stretch your girls' spatial reasoning skills and that they like. We are still in the shape sorter and block (and cardboard box) stage in our house, and I look at the toy aisles with dread whenever I am in a store like Target. I have had to buy a toy for a 3-year-old boy recently, and I had a hard time finding a truck - just a plain old truck that he could drive around in a sand box - that wasn't tied to a TV show or other franchise. But that is another complaint, I suppose. Anyway, I am appreciating your thoughts on this topic.

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  2. DH and I were wandering around the toy section at B&N the other day and we noted there are still *plenty* of gender neutral toys out there. The difference: they're all sold by smaller companies. The big name brands are completely gender segregated.

    I don't think lego had to change to survive. Lego changed to become huge. (DH also argued that none of DC's Heroica characters are specifically guys, but then I pointed out that they all had facial hair on the boxes even if the figs themselves don't.)

    As much as I complain about girls toys given at birthday parties around here, they weren't actually so prolific when we were at Montessori. Girls had dinosaur birthday parties just like the boys and they got dinosaur loot just like the boys. When girls specifically had princess parties... they got crappy toys. When boys had superhero parties they didn't get crappy toys.

    Culture goes both ways-- I do think the toys we got as children during the Free to Be You and Me generation influenced us as adults. But you're right that those toys were available to us specifically because women's rights were used as a marketing tool. I want to go back to that social norm. The problem is, there are a lot of folks who were never really for that women's lib stuff anyway.

    My mom recommends spatial reasoning workbooks. She credits those with my excellent spatial abilities and the fact my sister is a mechanical engineer.

    (It's 3am and I'm hungry!)

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  3. Lego certainly spins it as a tale of survival.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2009/09/06/business/global/06lego.html

    I too am more pissed about the "set" aspect than the gendered up crap. fMhgirl was the SOLE girl in her Lego camp last summer SMH and she has not taken to them like the boy child. I got some HP for her this xmas in the hopes she will do them because they are excellent for all sorts of skill building when there isn't a "set" but still learning to make the shapes in your hand turn into the thing on the paper is FAB for spatial reasoning. I suck at that, so I'm hopeful she will be better with help.

    ACK the princesses. why can't they be queens. seriously? queens have power, princesses are decorative. SIGH I blame the (patriarchal) kid culture but yes there is no escaping it once they go to daycare so you just gotta channel it. Other not sucky girl book franchises are PInkilicious (super imaginative) and Fancy Nancy (precocious vocab) but neither are as ubiquitous as the damn princesses.

    ok this is threatening to turn into a post (hey maybe tomorrow I can toy rant just before the holiday)

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  4. Back with another thought.

    Something else that has changed since the 70s and 80s...

    Walmart (and manufacturing in China) has made it so that the folks with "traditional family values" and only one working parent (and less educated families with two working parents) can afford to get lots of lego sets. I bet that wasn't as true in the 70s and 80s.

    Their target audience was higher educated folks because those were the people who could afford legos (and other toys). And higher educated folks were into educating their girl-children. So marketing with a boy and girl on the box made more sense. There were fewer families who could afford legos, those folks were into feminism, so you wanted them to buy the legos and not boycott them.

    Today they can get a lot more families of just boys to buy legos-- the ones they claim are confused about whether this is a "girl" toy or a "boy" toy.

    So they're hitting different markets in order to get greater market share.

    This is possibly good for boys of less educated families. But not so good for girls from more educated families. Net value to society: unknown.

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  5. Oh yeah, also (for spatial abilities): Tangrams.

    We have a lovely magnetic set that we got from Scholastic. Totes gender neutral. DC played with them before bed for a good portion of a year. Growing up I had a nice quality plastic set with cards. I think the magnet version is easier to use at a younger age.

    And at B&N the other day we saw 3D Tangrams that we covet (~$30), but DC has so many toys under the tree that they will have to wait.

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  6. Thanks, everyone! I really enjoy reading everyone's perspective on this.

    Lego was definitely hemorrhaging money. I remember that time, because my Lego-loving husband was very worried about them.

    I'm starting to hear more about Fancy Nancy. I should check her out.

    @Nicoleandmaggie- I think you are right that there is a socioeconomic factor in here, too.

    And now I should go get ready for work!

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  7. Over the past couple of years, Fancy Nancy has been incredibly popular with my cousins' little girls and my niece (ages this year: 5 to 7). There is a first reader series as well as the story books. It's all frills and flounces and 'fancy' words. I actually find the books annoying, but that is more to do with my distinct antipathy to frills than the quality of the books.

    I've done pretty much all of my 'toy' shopping at our local independent toy store - because a) I don't have to go to a mall and I can park right outside, b) I like to support small local business and c) the shop is organised by age (not gender!) so it is *really* easy to find something appropriate.

    I bought my 3rd old nephew a tanagram set for Christmas this year. My 5 yr old niece is getting a jewellery set of bracelet, necklace and hair clips plus some art supplies. One set of cousins kids are getting hats and socks. Another set are getting a skirt (9 year old girl) and a book of paper airplanes (7 yr old boy). The third set of cousins kids are getting a skirt & top outfit (7 yr old girl) and jigsaw puzzle and a kit of wheels that you can add to any box (5 yr old boy). I only just realised how gender stereotypical that is! Ack! In my defence, I bought the 7yr old girl an outfit a couple of months ago and she wore it three times in a week (it was literally wash 'n' wear) and damn if appreciation for that kind of gift doesn't get you more of the same... and once i'd bought her a skirt, I figured to be fair, I should get her older cousin a skirt too. Plus, I know how much her mother *hates* clothes shopping for the 9 year old now, so I figured I'd be helpful there. But all the boys clothes were yuck at the time I was on-line shopping - so I had to get them 'toys'.

    That Castle Logix looks interesting. might have to see if Playquip stock them.

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  8. zenmoo7:23 AM

    Actually, just thinking about something my mother said the other day... she said she thought one thing that really benefited me in terms of spatial skill development was having a brother who was 7 years younger than me. I was still playing with lego when I was 16 because he was playing with lego (and we lived in a place where neither of us had access to kids our own age for after school hanging out). I spent a fair bit of time building sets with him (my sisters in between were not interested!). He was also the kind of precise kid who liked to follow the instructions to get something looking exactly right. It annoyed me - because I was more free form. I grew up to be an engineer - he's an auditor!

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  9. the milliner7:28 AM

    @nicoleandmaggie makes a good point that it's the large companies that are producing the very stereotypically gender focused toys., whereas the smaller ones are more gender neutral.

    I generally try to avoid Toys'R'Us, but I was there yesterday tryi g to pick out a Lego set for my 3 yo son. After looking online, I was hoping to find a the safari set or the fishing set...mostly because they both had tent and fire pieces as he's a bit obsessed about camping now. Sadly not much choice at the store. I was trying to find something more gentle in theme as he's not really in to cars etc. But a lot of the non stereotypical boy sets if aimed at girls were overly girly. I would have loved to get him the baker set but too girly. Why can't we just have kid's things?! Argh. Ended up just getting hima plain set ( no theme) and a Tag reading system from Leapfrog.

    As an aside, one year when I was about 8, my parents had gotten my brother a remote control car for Xmas. They showed it to me before and my Dad & I had a blast playing with it in the kitchen. I guess I had so much fun with it that there was one under the tree for me too. And it was a really Indy500 looking thing too. Not at all my style. But I totally appreciate now what my parents did for me then.

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  10. @scienceofmom.com - Green Toys makes awesome plain trucks, FYI.

    @feMOMhist - I agree that the sucky thing is all the Lego KITS. It absolutely squelches creativity with all those specialized pieces and instructions, for crying out loud.

    ITA re: smaller toy stores and the Internet. Target is the last place I look for toys anymore, because they never have anything good - everything either lights up and makes noises or is crazy gender-segregated.

    I think there's a difference between kids "discovering" princesses on their own vs. people shoving princess stuff at them since "they're girls and all girls love princesses".

    We got a TON of princess stuff from one guest at T's birthday party and it all went back. But it was the Disney store and I struggled with what to buy, since we don't see the need to indoctrinate her just yet with all the licensed characters.

    When we were kids there was plenty of licensed character stuff, it just wasn't as gender-segregated as it seems to be now...

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  11. We got the Castle Logix thing, and if you're going to do it, now is the time. The age range on the box was wildly high. I think Chuckles got it at 5 and blew through the entire book in about 20 minutes.

    (For the record, I have great spatial skills, but I jsut couldn't figure out what it was trying to get me to do, so having it around now will either be great and you can play with it instantly or you can put it away until she's ready.)

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  12. From an NPR story on the new legos... "Another thing learned from the researchers was that while boys and girls both love to build, boys build in a linear fashion, assembling the kits from start to finish and not stopping until the toy looks like what's on the cover of the box.

    In contrast, girls like to stop along the way, and start role-playing while they are building. So, Wieners says, Lego bagged the girls' toys differently, so they can begin playing before finishing the whole model."

    This type of adjustment actually makes a lot of sense to me and while I don't like the girly-ness of toys, I do like that they actually took into consideration 'how' girls play instead of just a lets make it pink and they will buy it mentality.

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  13. I ended reading the Lego article with a different feeling than I started. It's not just making a toy pink and purple. They did think about some of the ways girls play. I'm glad that I had my two boys first, then my daughter, because she will grow up with their blocks and Legos and hopefully pick up the spatial reasoning benefits of boy toys in a much more varied environment than if she was born first and the playroom had become all girl stuff.

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  14. @Laura- I'm trying to remember where I read that girls with older brothers have higher spatial skills...

    We have a 4.75 yr old girl who, also, was introduced to princess through school. She has a few of the dolls but thankfully, doesn't seem to be consumed by the ethos. I'm thrilled to hear about the new Lego sets because I have several of the older boy, kit driven ones and I'm just not the type that wants to build things to look like the box and I don't think she is either. I figure some of the girl characters will cross-pollinate our pirate ship and helicopters and it will all even out.
    I'm adding those blocks and Fem(Mom)inist's suggestions to the Amazon list--great to have ideas for the February birthday!

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  15. Oh, sorry, we actually have Camelot, Jr, but my comment is the same...buy it now or you might miss your window of playing with it.

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  16. I spent the evening of DS's birthday party last year after DS went to bed doing all the super advanced puzzles on Castle Logix (without cheating!). They were fun!

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  17. For a long time I've seen complaints about LEGO--it's all licenses, it supports movies, it's violent, we want back to basic building blocks...blah blah blah. I even heard it from retailers at Toy Fair to the LEGO reps.

    This is another thing.

    I think your points about business and market demand are very good--but it almost sounds like you're resigned to "oh, this is how it is so we have to learn how to live with it."

    I swear I mention this book way too much (no kickbacks, swear!) but I would really urge you to read Cinderella Ate My Daughter by Peggy Orenstein which discusses how the princess culture began and why it's so pervasive now. The issue isn't that princesses are bad, but that girls hardly have a choice any more. They're slowly being trained that there are girl toys and boy toys, and girls toys are inherently pink.

    As it is, my kids are aware that there are "girl legos and boy legos" which kind of kills me.

    I just want my kids to get excited about building stuff!

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  18. @Mom101- I think we agree more than we disagree. I probably didn't explain this well in my post, but I wish that we would give all of our kids- girls AND boys- the freedom to be interested in a range of things, from the traditionally girl to the traditionally boy. Because that is what most people are- a mix of interests. I love Jane Austen AND rugby. So why can't my daughter love Cinderella AND construction toys?

    I agree that the gender specific Lego issue is something different from the branded character issue- but I still do not think that this issue starts with the new "girl" sets. My beef with the current sets isn't that they use licensed characters. It is that they are actually offputting to girls. There is a preponderance of warrior crap, which I may actually like less than the princess crap. But more importantly, my 4.5 year old wants nothing to do with the warrior crap. And maybe I've missed it, but I haven't heard much pushback about the fact that the current sets are so "boy". Yes, I would rather we went back to gender neutral sets. But the skew away from gender neutral sets didn't start with the "girl" line. It started a long time ago. And realistically, gender specific will sell more toys, because families with a mix of genders will have to buy for both genders rather than share.

    I haven't seen the new sets. Maybe some of the folks in the toy and marketing industry have, but I haven't. All I'm going off of is the Bloomberg Business article I linked to in my first post- which quotes Peggy Orenstein, actually, about what a no girl zone Lego is right now. From the article, they made changes based on research about how girls play, and didn't just "pinkwash" the sets. If the new sets suck, I won't buy them. But that probably means that I won't buy much Lego.

    As I say in the last sentence of my post- I think I have to work with what I have now AND try to change our culture. And for what I have now? The new Lego sets are likely to be helpful. Perfect? Hell, no. But better than nothing. I can fight like hell to change the culture, but any change will come too late for my girls. What I care about most is that their toys help them stretch their skills. I can take care of the "you can be whatever you want to be" part. That is one of the few parenting tasks I actually think I'm sort of prepared for, given the fact that I've spent my entire career in male dominated fields, and I have a lot of friends in related fields. I can tell my girls what a career in science or technology really looks like as a woman. I can point to people they know as examples of the idea that they have a range of career options in front of them. Ultimately, I think that will be more powerful than Disney or a Lego set that has a hair salon.

    In fact, perhaps the best thing I can do for my girls is teach them to recognize the bullshit messages our culture sends them, and help them learn how to navigate through the bullshit and come out the other side happy and confident. I wish this wasn't necessary, but this is also not something I think I can change in time for my girls.

    Finally (if anyone is still reading this mammoth comment!) I want to address the common comment that we should use sets at all, favoring instead free building. In fact, a lot of the spatial reasoning boost that comes from playing with Lego comes from building to match the picture. I'm all for free building- but the guided building is important, too.

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  19. just a shout out that the box o' legos has all sorts of stuff to build in the "book" (heck one can buy published books of STUFF to make) without it all being licensed character crap that is boy bent

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  20. Just had to chime in with a second for Paper Bag Princess. We love her in my house! Best princess ever.

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  21. Sonia5:46 PM

    I have 2 boys (4.5 and just about 8) who live and breathe Lego. They have a lot of the branded sets, mostly Toy Story stuff, and a lot of the themed sets. And they do build from the directions, especially the "3 in 1 sets" (which may appeal more to girls than the other legos do -- there are houses and stuff that you can build, then play with like dollhouses. my boys have a blast with them). But they've started combining most of their Toy Story/Atlantis/Pharoah's Quest/City stuff into one big bin. They've started playing with them differently -- a lot more creatively. So, I guess my point is that the sets don't have to be limiting once you reach a critical mass.

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  22. What's funny about this post is it leaves me realizing just how few toys we have bought DS. Which I can explain the reasons behind at length (none nefarious, and he's far from deprived) but rather than make this about me I'll just note that (a) it may be easier for a mom to a boy though (b) my general sense is that the violence inherent in many boy toys is also quite problematic.

    We do have tons of great trucks. Many are hand-me-downs, but even the ones we've bought aren't branded, nor have we had to look far to find them. I search "Tonka" on Amazon and find plenty of appealing options.

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  23. I want to add another element here, which is the role that retailers are increasingly playing in the creation of these materials. It is a bit of a chicken and egg situation, but it might surprise people to know how much a retailer can (and DOES) dictate to a manufacturer how much to push in one gender direction or the other.

    To use an example from my professional life--one of the brands I work on does a lot of what we call book plus, usually meaning some kind of kit (think: a book, with paints and paintbrushes, or a book with a puzzle or a book with a model you build). We have tried, in the past, to do gender neutral kits, and continue to do them on a small scale. But retailers INEVITABLY want a boys kit and then a girls kit (or, more likely, lots of boy kits and one or two girl kits). We financially can't create the products if the big retailers aren't going to support them, so it becomes this cycle that even though WE want to do more gender neutral stuff, we're not able to.

    Also, and this is the sadder truth, the reality is that the gender neutral stuff just doesn't sell as well. For everyone of us here who are thinking we want to bridge these gaps, there are 50 parents/grandparents/etc who want to buy the easy way: girl toys for girls, boy toys for boys. And that's what the mass market retailers are going to go for until consumers start to tell them to go after something else.

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  24. The milliner12:53 PM

    Just a quick comment on sets vs. free building...Totally agree in the inherent value in building using imagination (and basic sets) vs. putting a set together. DS has lots of plain blocks (wood, plastic, big, small, etc.). But this time around I was looking for some accessory pieces to accompany the basic blocks to encourage role playing (a bit à la Playmobil) and to bring something a bit different to the mix for him. Interesting comment about the way
    boys & girls tend to learn as I've definitely noticed the linear thing in DS and the fact that he often wants to do the structures pictured on the box when he plays with
    his wooden blocks!

    @Alexcoghrapher, Found 2 vintage Tonka trucks at the flea market this summer. Awesome! We got one. And there's even a website that helps you date your Tonka truck based on various details.

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  25. Anonymous2:29 AM

    I just wish they'd quit the kits. Growing up, it was all about having lego pieces to make whatever you wanted, not anything specific. Granted we had a bunch of the lego police cars that I think my dad had picked up on clearance, so police car windows were bay windows in my lego houses, etc. Let the girls play with them in their own way, but there's NO need for revamping lego to do so - just stop it with the kits!

    Granted I did learn at an early age that boys and girls play with legos differently... even when the only "boy" around was my father - I always built lego houses or buildings, and he always built lego airplanes and "bombed" my lego houses with lego pieces!

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  26. Wanted to chime in on the Lego thing. Each of my kids initially builds what the instructions show. I think there is value in learning building techniques and being able to follow directions. There are some ways to build that would _never_ have occurred to me without seeing it first, and I've been playing with the things for 30 years. (My own failure perhaps, but it is what it is and the kids share my genes.)

    That being said, though, two of my kids (boy, 7, and girl, 4) don't leave the model intact for more than 15 minutes. We encourage that, too. ("Wouldn't this piece be cool as [totally different application]?") I help it along by buying the grab bags at the store (bags of random pieces from when they switch the displays- you never know what you're going to get), mixed lots on ebay, and the like.

    I don't think there's anything inherently wrong with the kits unless you're like my neighbor who glues his son's sets together after the first build. That's just wrong. Sometimes, the specialized pieces actually encourage more creativity. Seeing past the one application you know is an exercise in and of itself. The more sets we acquire, the more I see what I thought were specialized pieces being used in wildly different ways.

    It probably helps that Mom is just as into building with them as the kids are- erases some of the boy/girl issues. My 4-year-old is totally into the firefighter sets (she was a firefighter for Halloween; wanted a pink costume until I reminded her that all firefighters wear the same turn-out gear). My main complaint is the lack of girl minifigures, but that is slowly getting better. I don't like that the new "girl" sets have a different scale of minifigure, but we'll probably get her the inventor lab set since she's fascinated by the tiny tools and the ones in that set are purple (she loves the color and it sets them apart from her brothers'). Plus, there are erlenmeyer flasks and a cute robot...

    We tried lots of different building sets (Gears!, Lincoln Logs, blocks, etc.), but my kids got frustrated that they were so vulnerable to younger sibling-induced destruction. They kept coming back to the Duplos/Legos because they stick together for play. It also helped to have gotten lots of basic Duplos from ebay, thrift stores, etc. I was able to weed out the more specialized pieces until they were getting more creative with the basic ones. Some just went right back to Goodwill, too.

    Sorry about the lengthy comment. Don't get me started on the frustration of trying to find a kitchen set for my boys...

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  27. Thanks for the comment @VA Hills. No worries about the length. I write long posts, so it would be hypocritical to complain about long comments!

    I think you are right about the benefits of the varying ways kids play with LEGO.

    I hear you on the kitchen set issue... Although, since we have two girls, our problem is more with space. My sister found an awesome folding wood stove top that is also gender-neutral. I'm sure it was expensive, though.

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  28. A little more whine, then I'll go back to lurking...

    The main problem with the kitchen set was that I was on a pretty tight budget. There were some great wooden sets in white or primary colors, but they were $200 and up for a whole kitchen. We settled for pastels with not too much pink. A side benefit of not spending much is that when they tipped it on its side and used it as a rocket ship, I wasn't too upset...

    Then came dishes. I wanted enough for my two (at the time) kids plus parents or friends, but every set of kid dishes I found (this was six years ago) had just two place settings or was floral. Not the thing to get if I wanted to encourage my boys to play with them! (One's favorite color was pink for a while, but they've pretty universally rejected floral.) I ended up just buying a set of the kids dishes from IKEA. They were cheap, had bright colors and came in packs of six. They've held up well, too.

    My current frustration is finding boy doll clothes. Did you know such a thing apparently does not exist? I even checked American Girl, since you can get boy twins in their Bitty Baby line. No luck. You can get boy twins, but you can't clothe them. I'm left with brushing up on my sewing skills or paying someone for custom. Why does every doll have to be a girl? Sigh.

    I prefer Pinkalicious over Fancy Nancy, but they're both good. For older kids, I like Patricia Wrede's Dealing With Dragons and several of Tamora Pierce's series.

    As for the Princess stuff, my main problem is along the lines of Anandi and Mom101. I don't want my daughter to think she has to like it just because she's a girl. I went too far the other way for a bit, but eventually realized nothing would erase her fondness for pink. Now we just temper it with variety- pink is fine but too much of any one thing isn't!

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  29. I'm late to the party, I guess--but wanted to share my experience with the LEGO sets. We decided to go to the LEGO store on New Year's Day; 7yo son had some money burning a hole in his pocket and we wanted to see which sets nearly-5yo daughter gravitated towards.

    We came out with a City of Atlantis set, a Friends set, and a small pick-a-brick bucket (this last item for daughter). I helped son with the Atlantis set (I usually don't help with his builds), and husband helped daughter with the Friends set (FWIW, the treehouse one). Both kids admired each other's sets, and daughter has already made some modifications to hers with stuff from the bucket-o-bricks. Son's set will probably stay intact for a week, tops, before he starts turning it into other stuff. All his sets eventually end up in the giant bin of LEGOS and get made into other stuff. Daughter and son both started doing dramatic play with the sets during the building process.

    While we were in the store, the first thing that daughter was carrying around was a 3-in-one set to build a helicopter or speedboat or (something else), until she got over to the other side of the store and saw the Friends sets. She's getting a log cabin set from us for her birthday in a couple weeks, and if anyone asks for suggestions, we might mention the Friends sets. I was put off by the idea at first, but I'm over it. She likes action figures and cars and running around like a maniac. It's all good over here.

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