Helping Kids Dream Big!

Everything starts with childhood play.

Oct 21, 2021
Special Collections: CHANGEMAKERS
Helping Kids Dream Big! | Everything starts with childhood play.

A new global survey commissioned by LEGO, the kids’ toy company loved globally across generations, shows that girls dare to dream big!

This seven-country survey, reaching out to nearly 7,000 parents plus kids aged 6-14, reveals that girls already possess the mental freedom to think about what they really want out of life, including in their toy choices. However, it is often society, their parents included, who hold them back, as attitudes to play and future careers are still unequal.

LEGO's new global survey: The highlights
It seems that girls are ready for the world, but the world isn’t quite ready for them in terms of supporting their growth through play. And this is happening in countries as diverse as the Czech Republic, China, Japan, and the UK.

As LEGO’s media release details, “Girls today feel increasingly confident to engage in all types of play and creative activities, but remain held back by society’s ingrained gender stereotypes as they grow older.”  

The survey found that 71 percent of boys were worried that they would be made fun of if they played with typical girls’ toys, a fear shared by most girls, and also with their parents.  Madeline Di Nonno, CEO of the Geena David Institute on Gender in Media that carried out the research, explains that this is due to deep-seated bias that holds traditionally male behaviors in higher esteem as reported in the Guardian.

And these perceptions influence the very nature of play from early on in our lives.

LEGO reveals, for instance, that “Girls are typically encouraged into activities that are more cognitive, artistic and related to performance compared to boys who are more likely to be pushed into physical and STEM-like activities (digital, science, building, tools).”

To give specific examples, parents surveyed are four times more likely to encourage girls to play dress-up than boys, and twice as likely to encourage boys to code.

And the survey didn’t shy away from asking about parental support for play with LEGO bricks! It turns out that stereotypes persist here too. 59 percent encourage their sons to build with LEGO bricks, with just 48 percent doing the same with their daughters.

Prompted a little more through an implicit bias check on how parents define creativity differently for their kids,  76 percent of parents admitted to encouraging LEGO play to a son versus just 24 percent who would recommend it to a daughter.

Gina Rippon, neurobiologist and author of The Gendered Brain, tells Digichat that this asymmetry in play holds both girls and boys back. If girls aren’t playing with construction toys, they miss out on developing the spatial skills that will help them later in life. If boys aren’t open to roleplaying with dolls, they don’t cultivate their nurturing abilities. 

LEGO’s vision for realizing more inclusive creative play for kids
So how will these research findings spur LEGO to make things better for all kids, so that play is guided by interest rather than gender?

Overall, the company plans to remove gender bias from its toys by championing inclusive play so all kids can feel they can build whatever they like and grow their talents. 

The company’s first step, launched on the recent UN’s International Day of the Girl, is their new campaign, Ready for Girls, celebrating female creativity.  This features inspiring  girls who excel in creative problem solving. 

Girls like sisters Fatima and Shaika, aged 18 and 8 from the UAE, an inventor and space exploration fan respectively. 

Or Chelsea, aged 11,  who set up Chelsea’s Charity to offer free art supplies to homeless US kids.

The Geena Davis Institute has been advising LEGO on how to help address gender bias and restrictive stereotyping since the start of 2021. It now offers parents a 10-step guide to inspire inclusive creative play in their kids.

Following in the footsteps of fellow toy companies like Hasbro, that recently rebranded its iconic Mr. Potato Head, and store display shifts such as Target’s October 2021 decision that stores would “degender” toy isles, LEGO wants its toys to be gender neutral.

“We’re working hard to make Lego more inclusive,” said Julia Goldin, the chief product and marketing officer at the LEGO Group. She wants to encourage kids to play with LEGO sets that have traditionally been seen as “not for them”. 

And LEGO is making headway. The company, for instance, no longer labels any of its products for one gender specifically, and on, consumers can’t search for products by gender, but by themes called “passion points” instead.

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Daphne has a background in editing, writing and global trends. She is inspired by trends seeing more people care about sharing and protecting resources, enjoying experiences over products and celebrating their unique selves. Making the world a better place has been a constant motivation in her work.
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