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Do toys shape children’s futures?

In a recent interview with The House (Parliament’s own magazine), Elizabeth Truss, the Minister for education and childcare, warned that the toys children play with could shape their future career paths. 

She specifically highlighted the example of girls being turned off science and maths if they play with toys seemingly aimed at girls (such as dolls and tea sets). She said that girls would need to play with toys such as Lego to get them interested in areas such as engineering.

She supports a movement called Let Toys Be Toys that is asking retailers to  ‘stop limiting children’s interests by promoting some toys as only suitable for girls, and others only for boys’. [Marks and Spencer has taken heed and will promote its toys in a gender neutral way by spring.]

Do we really feel that the toys we played with when we were younger have dictated the jobs we now do? I was an avid fan of Lego and although I did maths to A level, I never considered studying a scientific degree. I also loved jigsaw puzzles, stamp collecting and flower pressing: a nice gender balanced mix of activities but nothing that I feel has directly shaped my current working life.

My son (who turns 3 in a few weeks’ time) is currently obsessed with caring for a baby doll at his playgroup and will feed her a (pretend) microwaved banana on a daily basis. Does this mean that he is destined for a career in childcare? Should I breathe a sigh of relief when he reaches for his truck with massive wheels and awesome suspension?

I remember listening to a radio broadcast about women (and the lack of women) in the music industry and one of the conclusions was that perhaps women did not want to work as sound technicians which is why the industry is predominantly male – and not that the industry was specifically excluding women. Perhaps Elizabeth Truss would argue that women would not choose a career path such as this because they had been programmed at an early age to go in other directions, yet can we claim that women have lost all ability to make their own decisions?

Yes, of course it is wrong if women’s career choices are being restricted (whether by playing with certain toys or by society’s prejudices) but there is a certain element of accepting that women might well be happier teaching or working in admin than in the world of maths and science.

Lucy Cawkwell

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