Do boys and girls play differently? Perhaps. To foster a sense of tolerance and appreciation of their peers, it's good to provide open-ended, gender neutral activities. A stroll down the aisle in the toy department will convince you that there's only one way to buy for your child, but it's easier than you think to break free of pink-for-girls and blue-for-boys thinking. Gender neutral activities offer a chance for them to develop their individuality, creativity and problem solving skills.
There's nothing wrong with fairy costumes or knight outfits, but there are more gender-neutral options, including animal costumes or career dress-up clothes. Encourage little ones to play pilot, doctor, chef or teacher. And let them mix and match -- and if Allison prefers chaps over a tiara, let her wear it. And if Jack wants to mix fairy wings with cowboy boots, compliment him on his creative choices. And take time to watch how they role play; if you see your children falling into stereotypical roles, subtly nudge them toward imaginative play that doesn't rely on a damsel in distress and hero. Have the kids sing songs together, play instruments, string words together to make silly stories or play hide-and-seek.
Making art is an equal opportunity good time. Paint, paper, beads, scissors and glue are rarely designated for just one gender. The way we discuss our children's art with them is where we need to be conscientious about what we say. Avoid words such as "pretty" or "scary" when discussing your child's art -- compliment the effort and use of materials instead. Encourage them to paint on big paper to develop gross motor skills and to cut with scissors or string beads to develop fine motor skills and hand-eye coordination.
Some sports, such as football and baseball, are stereotypically male and others, volleyball and gymnastics, are stereotypically female. Research published by Athabasca University tells us that the sports with the highest participation across gender are the most gender neutral ones: swim, biking, hiking, running and soccer.
Give your child ample opportunity for open-ended play. Provide blocks, cardboard boxes and old sheets for blanket forts. Puzzles, chemistry sets, stuffed animals and matching games are gender neutral. Have dolls and trucks available too -- there's nothing wrong with toys that are typically cast as being for either boys or girls. Give equal shelf space for everything at home and let kids of both genders decide.
Teach your little helpers to do all chores around the house, regardless of their gender. Cook with them, show them how to take out the trash, practice folding laundry together, teach them how to wash dishes and do yard work together. Let them experience all parts of daily life, regardless of whether the task is typically done by males or by females.