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The toy company GoldieBlox garnered heaps of attention recently, first through its co-opting of the Beastie Boys’ song “Girls” in a commercial for one of its toys, and then via the ensuing legal spat between the toymakers and the B-Boys.
Now that the Beasties are out of the picture, the focus is only on the GoldieBlox product. Billed as an alternative to gender-specific toys for girls that skew towards the domestic, the toys are described on the company’s website as “games for girls to inspire future engineers.” Debbie Sterling, who developed the toy, points out that “only 11 percent of engineers are women, and girls start losing an interest in science as young as age eight!” In theory, GoldieBlox are a great idea.
In reality, however, the toy is mostly pink and baby blue, and it doesn’t do very much. According to Lisa Wade, chair of the sociology department at Occidental College, “It's not that radical, and that's why people are loving it. The idea started in the '70s that the way we should liberate women is to get them into guys' stuff. There's nothing about this toy that breaks with what we tell girls to do in this country every day: model what boys do, but do not break with femininity."
Here is a list of eight alternatives to GoldieBlox to get kids of any gender thinking while they play:
1) Snap Circuits: These award-winning toys are the real deal, allowing kids to build simple electronics like radios and doorbells. Safe yet exciting, they make electronics seem fun. $30. Ages 8 and up.
3) Weird and Wacky Contraption Lab: With 60 mix-and-match pieces, the Rube Goldberg-esque Smart Lab set is more in keeping with the contested GoldieBlox commercial than the actual GoldieBlox toys. $26. Ages 8 - 15
5) LEGOs: I realize that everyone but those living beneath rocks have heard of them, but the almighty LEGO deserves a mention here. If you want to have the unstructured LEGO experience many of us grew up with—not a specific Star Wars vehicle to build, but instead a tub of colored bricks to build whatever you imagine—then you need to check out the Bricks and More section. $59 for a big tub of bricks. Ages 4 and up.
7) Circus Shadow Puppets: I bought these on a whim for my daughters recently and was amazed by how much play they got. I was also pleasantly surprised by the way this toy sparked an interest in light and the way it travels. Who knew reflectivity and translucency could be so fun! $19. Ages 3 and up
8) Toobeez: This enormous construction building system is a great way to introduce little kids to the joys of engineering. Kids can build huge structures: With enough tubes, they can make anything from a fort to a submarine. $35 for EZ Fort. Ages 3 and up.
Do you think girls’ toys are too limiting? Tell us in the comments or in a blog post.