A Pragmatic Approach to Categorising Toys

December 1, 2014 Published by

Dr Amanda Gummer discusses top ten toys lists, Girls and Boys toys and why Fundamentally Children concentrates on being user-friendly, rather than dogmatic about toy categorisations. 

A couple of years ago, I wrote an article, which was a bit of a rant against what I believe to be the plethora of rather cynical PR stunts that pass themselves off as gift guides or top ten toys lists. Most of these are influenced by who pays the guide and many of the top ten lists from retailers are designed to push sales of the toys on the lists. There are lists out there that are merit based, but apart from a couple, they seemed to be aimed more at pushing sales than giving parents useful information to help them choose good toys for Christmas.

Having watched children play with hundreds of toys in our play clubs, we know that what suits one child, won’t necessarily suit another. A single list is rarely going to be helpful to parents. Then there’s the issue of how to make the information in a buying guide relevant and useful. There’s no point in producing the guide if parents wont read it because it’s not got categories in it that they can relate to. The problem is, whichever way you categorise it, you will never suit everyone.

Categorising Toys by Age or Type

Age is an obvious category, but that’s not helpful for children who are either struggling with an area of development or who are particularly able. Interest or toy type is useful, but people don’t know what they don’t know. Whilst it’s fine for a parent looking for a construction toy to see the options available, someone wanting inspiration for their 4 year old nephew who likes Ben 10 isn’t going to trawl through all the different toy types – it’s just not how people search for things – especially online.

Categorising Toys by Target Gender

children playing cooperatively with wheeled small world toysThen there’s the hot topic of gender. We’ve given this a lot of thought, especially with the “Let Toys Be Toys” campaign. We don’t generally separate toys into girls toys and boys toys and in the Good Toy Guide, we even don’t have gender as a filter option on the site because we want all toys to be accessible for all children. However, our user testing has told us that some parents are getting frustrated when they try and find a toy for their son or daughter, especially if that son or daughter does enjoy particularly ‘boyish’or ‘girly’ toys and play. This is probably the most controversial way of dividing up toys, and was the theme of a whole conference that I spoke at in October. Giving parents help and advice in the way that they find most helpful is our main aim. I don’t think we should shy away from identifying toys that, in our play clubs have been particularly enjoyed by boys or girls, so we’ve gone against our usual approach this year and produced guides of toys for girls and boy. It’s important to stress though that all toys can be played with by all children and stigmatising a boy for playing with a girly toy can be dangerous for their development (and vice versa). Our review of the most up to date research shows that there are biological differences in development between the genders so it’s not surprising that there are often different preferences for toys.

Whilst we would love to see a world where every child felt able to play with whatever they wanted, the success of products such as 
Lego Friends shows that girls and boys can both enjoy construction toys but different themes appeal.

Making typically boys toys more ‘girlifed’ or vice versa is a positive move if it encourages children to get involved with types of play they would otherwise be reluctant to engage with.

There was an interesting piece in the independent yesterday, on related themes, which you can find here. What struck us most was the range of comments below it. We thought that the following comment gives this debate some strong context…

“The solution really is quite simple – if you want to buy your girl a Nerf gun then by all means, go ahead; if your little boy wants the latest Barbie with all the accessories then go ahead. Get yourself down the store, select the item and buy it. Why on Earth are people allowing web filters and the colouring of the packaging to dictate whether or not their child can have a toy? This is a parenting issue, not a manufacturing, advertising or branding issue.”

We have, over the years, produced various buying guides on a range of subjects (creative play, construction toys, educational toys etc) and they are available on FundamentallyChildren.com. This year we’re adding to them with more guides and useful advice that parents, friends and relatives can refer to. We hope that our site will enable everybody to find good toys that their children will enjoy past boxing day!




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This post was written by Dr Amanda Gummer

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