Thursday, February 23, 2012

Toys to Promote Skills

I have a guest post up today over at Mommy Shorts, about toys that are likely to appeal to princess-obsessed little girls (and/or the grown ups who will only buy your daughter "girl toys") while still building skills that are important for future success in math and science, like spatial reasoning, pattern recognition and matching, and logic. Go check it out. As an added bonus, you'll get to see how wonderfully concise my posts would be if I had an editor. (Seriously, Ilana did a great job tightening up my post and making it fit better with her site.) While you're there, check out some of the regular posts. They are funny! I'm particularly partial to the charts, because I love graphs and charts and occasionally feel the need to post a graph, too. Compared to the ones on Mommy Shorts, though, mine are decidedly lacking in production values.

If you're coming over from Mommy Shorts, you know all that, and may be wondering who the heck I am, and why you should listen to me about toys. First of all, welcome! As you can see from my profile blurb, I am a scientist and a techie, and I have two daughters. And that is the extent of my qualifications to discuss toys. I feel strongly about this subject, though, because at least once a year I am told either in person or by some luminary like the President of Harvard or a New York Times science writer that the fact that there are fewer women in science than men can be explained by the fact that men are just innately better at math and science. The evidence does not support that statement, even though it is a widely held belief in our society. This is a classic self-fulfilling statement, and the differences in the toys we give our boys and girls are part of what helps fulfill it. For more on the myths about why there are fewer women in science than men, take a look at this article summarizing an evidence-based talk on the subject. In particular, notice this quote:

"A study published by the National Academy Press entitled “Beyond Bias and Barriers” reported findings on women’s ability, persistence in science, evaluation by peers, and reviewed strategies that effectively kept women in science. By almost all measures there was no difference in ability, the one exception being rotation of 3D objects in space, which seems to be more attributable to childhood play than inborn aptitude."

Which brings us back to toys. If you want to read more about my opinions on princesses, gender stereotyping, and the LEGO Friends controversy, here is a list of posts that cover those topics:
If you're wondering if I ever write about anything else, you can read my quick tour of my blog to get an idea of the topics I cover.  I also wrote a 2011 in review post that highlights some of my favorite and most popular posts from last year. If you poke around either of those posts, you'll probably realize that I write about a wide range of things. I know that this lack of focus annoys some potential readers,  since they don't know what to expect when they click through to read a post. But I can't help myself. I am a person, not a brand, and I blog that way.  Luckily, I don't really have any goals about readership levels, nor do I expect to make any money from my blog. Maybe reading the post I wrote about why I blog will give you some idea of what to expect... or maybe not. Either way, thanks for stopping by. If you like what you find, I hope you'll make yourself home and stay awhile, and maybe leave a comment or two. I love meeting new readers!

Update: I have a follow up post up with some of our favorite gender neutral math/logic promoting toys.


  1. tee hee I posted my Princess lesson plan today gotta meet them where they are right?

  2. Thank you so much for guest posting on my blog today and for helping me understand that I need to put some effort in to make sure my daughter is exposed to the right toys.

    I forget that I used to be incredibly good at math before I surrendered all math related matters to my husband.

    I'm a creative person at heart who was an art major in college. But I also took Calculus 2 for the easy A. (My husband doesn't believe me but it's true.)

    Thanks again!

  3. Do you think a boy being raised by two non math/science field women will be at the same disadvantage? There's no one here who especially loves legos. He plays with dinosaurs or cars or other little make-believe action figure type toys when left to his own devices. Color them pink and it's no different than girls playing with princesses, etc.

  4. @feMOMhist- I loved your lesson plan!

    @Mommy Shorts- and thank you for running the post. Its nice to get a chance to "talk" to a different crowd.

    Not that I don't love my own crowd, of course!

    @mom2boy- I don't know. I suspect cars actually stretch spatial reasoning a bit and develop an intuition about physics, as the kid starts to predict where the car will go.

    I certainly don't have all the answers- but maybe buy a LEGO set (the intro house set is a good starting place) and see what he thinks?

    Also, remember he may get steered more towards building toys at day care/preschool. Because gender expectations run deep, and even teachers trying not to stereotype probably do to a certain extent.

    I'm planning a follow up post soon with some gender neutral/non-pink toys we like for promoting similar skills- so stay tuned!

  5. @cloud - he has legos and professes a deep love of them BUT still asks for a full-time lego assistant to put them together so he doesn't really use them unless I agree to sit down and play legos.

    I'm not actually worried about his development in particular since he is all over the tactile math labs at his preschool but it did make me wonder since I can't visualize my way out of a paper bag if not having a strong "male/math/building" influence works against a boy as much as having one would work for a girl?

  6. @mom2boy

    It is never too late to learn and practice spatial skills. Or math.

  7. @nicoleandmaggie - I probably should. I'm fine at math but I googled spatial reasoning and got the fold this cube sample problem wrong.

  8. @mom2boy

    And if you got it right immediately, what would be the point of practicing?

    My mom had terrible spatial skills so she made the two of us do lots of spatial workbooks. As a result our spatial skills are great (my sister is a mechanical engineer and my skillz are better than my engineering husband's). And I wasn't naturally good at it. But with practice I'm the one who can tell if something is going to fit in the trunk of the car or not (and how).

    With the cube problems you don't just jump into them... you start by making a cube and doing the problems using it as an aid, thinking really hard about the relationships as you do so until you feel really good about the patterns. You can make your own problems with a 6 sided die.

  9. One of my favorite things about myself that I've discovered through playing with my boys is how much I love puzzles! Christopher Robin, the eldest, just adores puzzles. He's not-yet-4 and can do a 100 piece puzzle now. I love sitting down with him and figuring them out.

    I'm not a math/science person, and neither is my partner particularly, but we do lots of puzzles, beads, lego, building blocks (and Wedgits). I tend to think of all these things as gender neutral, and a natural outgrowth of the toys I bought them when they were babies/toddlers that I liked so much (because they were skill building), Plan Toys.

  10. @Nicoleandmaggie, @mom2boy- we've been lucky that Pumpkin is interested in spatial reasoning toys w/o prompting- LEGO, tangrams, puzzles, etc. Petunia has taken longer to warm up to puzzles, but is starting to get into them more. And she loves Duplo. But it will be interesting to see how much we end up needing to prod her to stretch those skills.

    @Erin- Pumpkin was like that! She has always been way ahead of the age range on puzzles. Like I said above, Petunia is less so. But we kept trying different types of puzzles until we found one that we hold her attention, and now she's starting to get into big floor puzzles.

  11. Anonymous8:13 AM


    I can't remember how old your son is, but mine never palyed lego alone until, oh, a year or so ago, and he is now 7. He still prefers an assistant to playing alone, but once something has actually been constructed he is happy to play alone with it, in fact he prefers it.

    Kids's tastes change. My boy was really into puzzles too from 3 till about 5 and then he just turned his attention to trains, and they became his be all or end all. Now its dinosaurs. These obsessions can go on for ever and the boom , they are into something completely different. Just because they are not into Lego now, doesn't mean they never will.

  12. Anonymous8:15 AM

    Sorry that last comment was mine

  13. paola8:16 AM


    Am having probs with typepad.

  14. Thanks for your contribution to Mommy Shorts. While I'm not a regular Mommy Shorts reader, I do have 2 daughters (12 & almost 9) and also work in a toy store; in both my roles, I try to offer broad play selections for kids. Your suggestions are spot on in my book!

  15. thanks for pointing out great point about the right toys for kids. Hope that they will like it than there ipad apps.


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