How many times have you walked into your child’s classroom only to see the boys and girls separated into two different groups, playing with completely different toys? The boys are likely huddled around the building blocks, creating skyscrapers and forts, while the girls are busy painting and coloring.
Sure, you can chalk it up to society’s gender expectations to explain this play divide but does it mean girls have no interest in construction play at all? Unsurprisingly, the answer is no. In fact, girls have just as much to gain from building as boys and equally enjoy playing with construction toys. Toy companies that specialize in designing building toys have long researched the patterns of construction play among girls, specifically, and understand its long-term benefits. Parents of girls, furthermore, should ensure their daughters are getting this valuable playtime with building toys.
From developing language skills to boosting a sense of achievement, construction play serves as a stepping-stone for a young child’s intellectual future.
“Playing with building toys provides children an ideal way to engage in discovery-based learning,” says Dr. Maureen O’Brien, developmental psychologist and child play expert. “It is through this type of learning that children are able to build their confidence through trial and error and develop a sense of achievement, enabling them to physically link their world to the play world, building their brains in the process.”
The learning benefits of block play are further enhanced when layered with open-ended, imaginative play, such as make-believe with dolls. Children begin to understand their world and give it perspective by playing with toys that enhance exploration through customization and storytelling. This combination of block play and role play is a boost to your child’s development.
Understanding that girls love and benefit from creative construction as much as boys do, O’Brien has some tips on incorporating building play as a regular activity for your daughter:
*Make construction playtime a group activity – Given the opportunity to build, girls equally excel at the building process and generate the same levels of satisfaction as boys. By making construction playtime a group activity, girls are also able to spend more time collaborating with one another over a building project. By assisting, affirming and supporting each other, girls are strengthening their interpersonal relationships. They are also developing their imaginations and resilience through conversations and collaborations during the process of their building project.
*Emphasize storytelling – Girls love the storytelling aspect of playtime. It allows them to create and express themselves in a fun environment where the possibilities are endless. By connecting a story to their creation, children learn and understand problem solving skills, language development and the elements of decision making – all important next steps in the learning process. Construction toys designed specifically for girls can help them tell their story.
*Incorporate familiar characters girls love – A way to familiarize girls with construction play is with characters they already know and love.
*Join and guide the fun – Playing with your daughter during building time increases her chances of learning from the activity. Even when parents and children sit and walk through building instructions together, the children are exposed to the problem solving skills needed to assemble the construction set. In addition, by building together, parents are exposing kids to innovative new ways of thinking, sparking creativity and showing a new way to understand the activity.
O’Brien encourages parents to break through the traditional playtime expectations to instill life-long benefits of construction play – especially for girls. The cognitive, spatial and interpersonal skills they will acquire through a simple shift in their play routine can expose them to numerous future opportunities.