Saturday, 10 April 2010

toys for boys

'Knights and castles! with swords!' is what my nephew wanted for his fourth birthday. So there I was rootling through a hundred boxes of Playmobil in our local toyshop looking for suitably armoured horses, when I saw it. Among the assorted pirates, Roman gladiators, cowboys and (thankfully) knights sat Playmobil Office. A little plastic figure in a suit complete with desk, computer, a filing cabinet and even his own lovingly crafted set of folders. I think there was also a wastepaper bin.
I can't imagine a toy the average small boy would less like to play with: it does rather smack of a token gesture designed to placate parents. The vast majority of boys' toys are action heroes, swashbucklers and derrers-do: they live by the sword (or at least the fire hose), and they're intensely physical. They don't do much filing.
Boys' toys are far more exciting and inspiring than the fluffy pink tat aimed at little girls. No wonder parents of daughters worry about the passive role models created by all those fairies, princesses, and ballerinas.
But boys' toys reinforce a stereotype too, even if it is a more empowering one: they're all about physicality, strength, and daring, brawn rather than brain.
Bringing up a boy has changed a lot of my ideas about what's ingrained and what isn't, having watched as the passion for diggers, fire engines and bin lorries emerged early and continued steadfastly regardless of whatever toys we offered. And of course I know toys are about fantasy, not real life: the fact that most of the little boys who grow up playing knights and castles will probably end up working in offices doesn't mean they should be playing with filing cabinets now.
But nerdy as it sounds, I wouldn't mind seeing a few more toys that made the connection between doing well at school (the one thing parents of sons inevitably worry about, as boys fall behind at GCSE, Alevel and university) and doing something exciting in later life. I can't be sure that playing astronauts will make my son more likely to take Physics A-level in 15 years' time. But I doubt the prospect of becoming poor old Mr Playmobil Office would make any self-respecting little boy knuckle down to GCSEs.

16 comments:

  1. Hi! My 10 year old was copying some pictures of Picasso for his homework using my computer printer today, it only took about 5 minutes but he was complaining about how boring office work was! He loves Playmobil though, and the Egyptian sets are all in favour at the moment.

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  2. Playmobil is great, and I was once very excited to find a Playmobil nun which I bought for my daughters' collection. Sadly, they're getting too old old to play with it all now but they used to have hours of fun with it. And no, they never wanted an office.

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  3. Hi Gaby, I would be interested to hear your take on this....
    http://iaindale.blogspot.com/2010/04/labour-sinks-to-new-depths-in-cancer.html

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  4. My friend has five year old twin girls and was worried about all the pink tat on offer, fortunately they prefer pirates and spacemen - and I haven't seen any office-related interest as yet.

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  5. We have five boys and a girl. Fortunately for the younger boys, the girl is in the middle - the younger boys have enjoyed all of her so called pink fluffy tat. In a more gender equal society (paternity leave) perhaps it's a good idea to wheel a dolly's pram into the castle; the knights can practice nappy changing before they plan strategy to rescue their princesses.

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  6. Christ if you find an answer to this will you please let me know. My eldest son (age 11) shows precisely zero interest in his school work despite being perfectly able. Can't help but worry....

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  7. I visited a friend's house and her 6-year-old boy proudly showed me his birthday present -- a toy office set, with letters and envelopes and I think a franking stamp (so a close cousin to a post office set). His parents said it is what he asked for and they were only too happy to oblige, though they had had to search hard to find one that wasn't all pink. His father said "I am a cowman who works a long day, and I will be only too happy to see him in an office."

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  8. no way - a playmobil office? I've gotta have it!

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  9. a playmobil nun, ha! my son doesn't like playmobil really, but they all love Lego, girl and boy alike.

    Disappointingly, even Lego has fallen into the "pink for girls" and "exciting stuff for boys" trap. It happens a lot in life doesn't it? Was the case with brownies and scouts as I remember. At brownies, we baked cakes and cleaned an elderly lady's kitchen (housekeepers badge), meanwhile my brother was at his scout meetings doing much more interesting things like building radios and going camping.

    Still, I shall celebrate the fact that I've got three children all playing lego from age 13 to 4, building offices, space stations and all sort of baffling installations to suit career intentions from business man to spacewoman.

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  11. toys which you gives to your boys makes them happy and they also feel well.
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  12. As mother to two girls I have the other problem, a sea of fairies and princesses and an uphill battle to get them interested in diggers and drills (doing ok so far but they're not very big)

    Do like the idea of playmobil desk man

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  13. a Playmobil nun! why haven't we got one of those? can you get the whole nunnery? we could have Playmobil sound of music....
    funny how this toy thing works. my parents were v into unisex toys for me and my sister, with the result that all we wanted was dolls. i've gone the other way and bought my son endless trucks, diggers, cars etc as it's what he loves, but then felt guilty when at his childminder's he zeroes in immediately on the toy ironing board - making me think i've underestimated his willingness to play with other stuff when it's there. food for thought from all of you as ever.
    and hello Mazza - i tweeted you but would just add: i reckon this has more to do with niche marketing than getting hold of patients' records. extraordinarily sophisticated targeting now wd make it fairly easy to identify people in at risk groups for cancer (eg smokers) and also, from marketing lists, for example those who have donated to cancer charities in the past (likely to be interested)> plus cancer so prevalent now that if you send out a leaflet good chance of reaching a lot of people with it. however i do think playing politics with cancer is risky and this shows exactly why.

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