As the year draws to a close, who doesn’t love the series of festivities lined up one after the other? Especially after being cooped up for a couple of years now - it seems that it is finally the season for getting together and celebrating something almost weekly. And, hey, it’s the kids who are really in for a treat. What’s better than a favourite aunt dropping by with a new toy for the little one? Or all the cousins romping around together and getting up to all kinds of fun and mischief?
For uncles and aunts, or grandmas and grandpas, though, choosing children’s gifts isn’t all child’s play. The little ones tend to be far pickier and fussier than anyone else, and even the most well-behaved child will break your heart with the disappointment in her eyes if she gets a ‘boring’ toy. And, as loving caregivers, as we realise the implications toys and play have for the development of their personalities… it’s become more common to put in a fair bit of thought before buying a gift.
As a kid, though, I remember that a visit from my favourite mama would always mean I had a new GI Joe figure or Hot Wheels car to play with, and my sister a new Barbie or kitchen set. Back then these choices seemed obvious to us and my sister and I would never dream of swapping our new toys. However, once the novelty wore off a little, there we’d be, back to playing together with all our toys in the mix, Barbie going off on a drive, or chasing the GI Joe figure who’d just robbed a bank! Despite the assumption that boys don’t play with dolls and girls hate cars, we’d usually just cook up an imaginary world together - gender stereotypes going for a toss.
Clearly little children don’t come fitted into little stereotypical boxes -- those are just created for them by older people around them. This makes it doubly important to not just take a look at the ‘boys’ or ‘girls’ section of the toy shop and pick up whatever’s wrapped in a blue or pink box, as the stereotypical case may be. Of course this doesn’t mean that we stop buying little boys cars from now on and only buy fighter jets for our little girls, but we do need to help them decide what they are more likely to enjoy.
How best to do this?
Give them both kinds -- traditionally masculine and feminine toys to play with. Or, even better, give them open-ended toys.
Open-ended toys are perfect for letting children fire up their imaginations and discover for themselves what they enjoy playing the most. Open-ended toys are described as ‘90% child and 10% toy’, automatically encouraging more active involvement from children. Plus, they are gender-neutral and help develop their personalities outside the boxes society might wish to put them into. They’d make for great children’s gifts no matter the occasion and once children start engaging with them the possibilities are endless. Given the longevity of well-made open-ended toys (they tend to be made with sustainable, long-lasting materials) these toys will give your little ones years of joy.
Coming back to my Mama, the serial Barbie-and-GI Joe-gifter, who is now well into his sixties. When he couldn’t visit his grandson for his third birthday due to the pandemic, he ended up ordering toys online. Guess what he bought? A model jet plane and a kitchen set! The times they are a-changin’, and next time I have a feeling he’s going to order a set of open-ended toys for his favourite little person.
This article is part of our series on choosing gifts or return gifts for kids. From return gifts for birthday parties, to toys for newly born babies, to gifts for birthdays or Diwali or Christmas - gift giving can be a complex affair - with deep implications on development as well as joy or heartbreak for the little tyke in question.
This series and our collection of toys for kids hopes to help you navigate this!