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As a parent, you know that there are many differences between a boy and a girl in how they play. Your daughter may particularly like tea parties while your son wants to roughhouse with a football.
Gender-neutral activities offer benefits for both boys and girls. “They are suitable because they do not focus or push the child into a category that is pre-prescribed based on gender bias,” said Dr. Joyce Mikal-Flynn, an associate nursing professor at Sacramento State University who specializes in brain and gender studies.
Finding a common ground between your princess and your jock doesn’t have to be a challenge with the variety of gender-neutral activities.
When choosing gender-neutral activities for toddlers and elementary-aged children, it’s important to consider the creative thinking of your little ones, said Susie Monday, education consultant and author of “The Missing Alphabet: The Parent’s Guide to Developing Creating Thinking in Kids.”
“Much more interesting for parents and teachers to think about is the diversity of imaginations and creative thinking that kids of all ages and genders exhibit,” said Monday.
Focusing on lines, shapes, color, movement, sound, space, light, texture and rhythm offers a lot of possibilities for both gender-neutral and brain-specific activities in younger kids, said Monday.
Seek out these opportunities while engaging on field trips to museums and parks with boys and girls. Encourage the children to describe textures, sounds, shapes and colors so that the activity is much more engaging and interactive for all.
Light up a birthday party or classroom activity with color-based, gender-neutral activities for kids of all ages. Break out construction paper, food coloring, shaving cream and kaleidoscopes and allow the boys and girls to embark on a color treasure hunt and art extravaganza. From finger painting, collage making and shaving cream art to wrapping colored cellophane around cardboard rolls, both genders will be encouraged to break out their creative sides.
“For activities for parties and classrooms, I like to think about how I can meet the needs of kids who think and take in information in diverse ways,” said Monday. “The possibilities are practically endless with a color-themed party for little kids with collage projects and colorful paintings.”
To keep both boys and girls occupied and excited about play, Mikal-Flynn recommends physical play as a suitable gender-neutral activity.
“More than anything, there always has to be some sort of physical activity to engage them both in group activities,” she said.
An opportunity to get them moving with a friendly game of soccer, a wheelbarrow race or even a game of Duck, Duck Goose will stimulate their social skills and provide some exercise for all ages. Mikal-Flynn recommends against rough tumble play or physical activities that may over-exert children.
“It is simply the opening up of activities and the variety from more sedate to physical activities,” she said. “Allow children to participate naturally rather than being prescriptive.”
Sometimes, providing options is best, especially with pre-teens and teens, said Mikal-Flynn. “Freedom of activity is essential for kids,” she said. “The key is diversifying activities.”
There are a lot of various activities that go with free play, said Mikal-Flynn. From a random board game to dancing with an electronic video game, children of all ages can find a way to interact with their peers. Teens and adolescents may enjoy congregating by a bonfire roasting marshmallows, card games or dancing to tunes at a house party.
“Kids will figure out what they like,” she said. “They are learning social skills, how to speak to each other and how to problem solve, and with free play, there is a freedom or openness to participation.”
Interactive games such as tag or even charades may appeal to both genders, too. “Teen adolescents are risk takers and there is a risk to playing games,” said Mikal-Flynn. “They like to be active and socially like to be involved.”