Children Learn About the World Through Toys
Obviously, parents choose the toys for their children, at least in the first stage of development. Naturally, the parents, being familiar with the foundations of human society, are limited in their choice (Witt, 1997). The first opportunity of choice is given when freedom has already been lost because the division of biological sex toys bears certain consequences.
- First, toys that are specifically designed for girls or boys have a function of awareness of their social roles in the future. For example, the doll is a projection of the mother and helps develop a sense of responsibility, caring and tenderness. For boys, the usual toys are soldiers meaning aggression and protection by means of force (O’Brien & Huston, 1985). As a result, in the future, when boys grow up, a society that had not permitted to express maternal emotions in boys tends to accuse fathers, who leave the family.
- Second, the differentiation of biological sex toys not only divides the world of children, but also contradistinguishes the genders. Girls will play with the girls and boys, in their turn, play inside of their circle. However, according to experts, a child aged up to three years has not yet equated himself on biological sex, and in playgrounds or kindergartens, children play together. However, it bothers the parents, especially if the child is outside the house since there is a possibility that the baby will be of a different age orientation.
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Sex differences are purely biological and in most cases, quite clear: a person is either a man, or a woman. Nevertheless, gender is either a personal or cultural matter due to different gender: the fact that girls wear pink dictates gender, not sex (O’Brien & Huston, 1985). Gender roles are not as strictly defined, and a hundred years ago, the same pink background would have been probably referred to “boys” because of the fact that a watered-red color symbolizes the god of war, Mars. For a variety of reasons, a child is raised by society in kindergarten, school, university, and workplace. Thus, a society facilitates this process and creates stereotypes. Unfortunately, a person and their enormous potential is, as a rule, crushed and ruined simply by virtue of not matching all these requirements. Therefore, there is a need to study the gender identification process from the viewpoint of the first experience of children related to toys in order to define the causes of stereotypical behavior observed in future.
Historically, the imaginary “fundamental” differences between the sexes have been used as an argument against equality, in particular, women’s suffrage. In the early 20th century, this resistance was maintained by the “science” of phrenology, which then lost its credibility, and its findings proved to be false and based on prejudice. Later, researchers and neurologists began to argue that the significant differences between the brains of men and women have been disclosed, which was shown by neuro-imaging referring to different brain structures. Nevertheless, this study is not as undeniable as it may seem at the first glance; none of the study’s participants could be isolated from the effects of socialization and as such, each of the alleged “significant” differences may actually be a result of socialization and personality formation. In addition, the decisive grounds were not found; methodology was often imperfect and samples were small, while visualization has yet to be properly understood. A widely supported belief that the brains of men and women work differently is based on the findings of minority studies that are critically rejected by meta-analysis (Deaux & Kite, 1993).
Despite the failure of phrenology and allied sciences, the development of the feminist movement achieved the society’s approval, and human culture still remained patriarchal. Human organization, traditions and daily lives are full of examples where a man has power over a woman. When a child is born, he/she takes the father’s name. According to tradition, a father makes his daughter get married with a man whose name she should take. Until recently (and often it is still happening), only man took the control over the family finances, while the woman took (always unpaid) responsibility for the household and children. When a woman gets a job, she averagely earns significantly less than her male counterpart (despite the law prohibiting it). She is less likely to get a promotion, but is likely to receive a smaller pension. If a woman is the wife and/or mother, she also, as a rule, remains responsible for the home and family in addition to the paid. Representatives, decision-makers in the trade unions, local authorities and government are mostly men (Deaux & Kite, 1993). Despite the fact that at present, a large proportion of graduates from law schools is women, the legal system is still dominated by men. Legal equality did not lead to true equality. What is important, these stereotypes are tied to people in the childhood by their parents. Moreover, fathers and mothers imparted these labels to modern parents as well. Thus, there appears a vicious circle of child development, which, unfortunately, can be broken only with the change of society (Bhargava, Kirova-Petrova, & McNair, 1999).
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A Toy in the Child’s Consciousness
Many parents do not even think about the role played by toys in the upbringing of their children. A toy appears in a child’s life literally from the cradle, thus it is an object that directly influences his/her consciousness. It reveals the properties of the child’s soul, introduces the child to the world of complex human relations, prepares for a future family life, teaches love and friendship and teaches to work. It is safe to say that an ability to play with a toy as a training factor is innate and integral. In the past, people understood the value of games for transferring knowledge from generation to generation. Even in the poorest families, children had toys. Sometimes a doll could be wrapped in rags log, with which a girl was playing daughters and had a toy house. Game for children is a vital necessity.
The way children behave with toys and how they relate to them can give many answers about the kids’ inner world, character and temperament. Many parents have noticed that the child communicates with the toy outside the game process, imagining that the puppet is a friend. In most cases, in the moments of bad temper or during the bedtime, many children fall asleep in an embrace with a favorite toy. In the game process, the baby not only distracts from the outside world and entertains himself/herself, but also develops, plunging by a hundred percent into the dream world, in which he/she feels good, safe and peaceful (Cherney, Kelly-Vance, Gill Glover, Ruane, & Oliver Ryalls, 2003).
Role and Functions of a Toy in the Child’s Upbringing
Psychologists believe that a well-chosen toy can encourage a proper development for a child (Campenni, 1999). Needless to say, it is impossible to pick a universal toy for every child, but the illusion of the insignificance of a toy is still present, since toys are subjects that serve as a company every day and thus, they are not accepted to pay attention to in terms of the philosophical, cultural and psychological researches. In the minds of the majority of people, a toy remains an everyday thing and a child’s fun trinket that can be bought in a store, so it is not worth spending the research time investigating such an insignificant thing. However, from time immemorial, a toy serves as an important artifact and a necessary psychological tool, promoting the development of the child’s psyche. One can say that the toy is a constant companion of a person during his/her life. Inscribed in the daily life, it is rarely the subject of special consideration. In addition, the toy is always associated, and not without reason, with something childish, frivolous, and not deserving an intellectual attention.
For a child, it is important not only to understand the objective meaning of standards and requirements, but also imbue them by emotional attitude, so that they become benchmarks of his/her emotional evaluations of their own and others’ actions. The explanation and guidance of adults are usually not enough. The reinforcements must be found in the own practical experience and activities. A decisive role is played by the cooperative children’s and adults’ activities. Such activities allow a child to have a personal experience and feel the need to implement the rules and regulations to achieve important and interesting targets for success as well as to meet their own queries (Cherney et al., 2003).
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Therefore, the leading activity becomes the subject role-playing game, where the child simulates behaviors, actions and relationships with the help of a toy. It brings the relationship between people and the meaning of their work to the forefront. Fulfilling such role, or imitating this role with a toy, the child learns to act in accordance with moral standards accepted in human society. In the field of moral knowledge, opinions, views, i.e. cognitive sphere, children learn various aspects of social moral consciousness and above all, an understanding of moral demands moral evaluation criteria. The child learns to follow the norms of morality voluntarily, even if its violation is related to personal gain and sure impunity (Sadker & Zittleman, 2009). Thus, possessing ethical behavior, the child is able to make correct moral choices, not in words, but in action. In the field of moral feelings of the child there are formed morally valuable or morally disapproved relations with other people. Thus, the child develops humanistic, altruistic feelings and attitudes, for example, attention to the needs and interests of others, an ability to perceive them as they are, ability to sympathize with the plight of the joy of a stranger, and a feeling of guilt after the violation of norms (Clark & Higonnet, 2000).
One can distinguish several functions of toys. Emotional function stands for mental manifestations of the child, helping to develop the emotional stability and regulate the feelings. Cultural studies function deals with a toy as a subject of culture and helps the child to realize him/herself as a member of a particular cultural group. Aesthetic function is what the toy looks like according to the norms of beauty and thus, the aesthetic appeal is the most important criterion in choosing a toy by the majority of children. Educational function is one of the most important functions, since with its help; a child achieves a conscious attitude and values of this world and at the same time reflects the values that prevail in a given society or particular social group. Creative function claims that the toy is acting as a design object. Thus, a child develops imagination and creative skills. Communicative function presumes that by means of communication with the toy, the child expresses the need to intervene and try to change the world around, and express joy, love, pain and other feelings. “Magical function” reveals the relationship of folk toys with ancient ideas (Sadker & Zittleman, 2009).
Therefore, the role of a toy in the early development of a child is vital. In addition, it is the toy that is the only connection of a kid with the outside world, the only type of communication with adults and other children. Perhaps, it is the only way to teach the child the social norms, which makes it a powerful instrument of the adult attitude formation. Therefore, dolls and puppets are used (implicitly or explicitly) by the society in order to tie the child to gender inequality norms by the appearance of the toy and its function (De Caroli & Sagone, 2007).
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Toys and Gender Inequality
Since childhood, human malleable immature brain is under pressure of gender norms recognized by the respective sex. Thus, an obvious example is that the girls are surrounded with things of pink color and boys prefer blue. Furthermore, girls receive toys that allow them to imitate the lives of the traditional wife and mother (i.e. dolls and toy kitchen), while boys play with the ones that look like traditional tools of employed workers (tools, designers, etc.) (Chick, Heilman-Houser, & Hunter, 2002). Although in recent years, many parents are trying to abandon such division in favor of a more “gender-neutral” education, the standards of society have not changed yet, and the child in the end becomes familiar with what is “normal” for a girl, and how it differs from what is “normal” for a boy in terms of modern society (Clark & Higonnet, 2000).
Human association also affects the interaction with children of different sexes and how they are socialized according to gender roles. The most important thing is that this process is “pre-cognitive”, that is independent of our opinion or rational assessment. Parents talk less, hold in arms with male infants rather than female ones (Witt, 1997). An adult, who believes that the child will be a real boy, also believes that he will be more independent and active than a girl. This raises the controversial issue of the duality of gender. If to take two people, one of whom is “ambitious, athletic and prone to competition,” and another is “sensitive, outgoing and caring,” apparently the gender would be automatically assigned to each of the descriptions – the first person is male and the second one is female (De Caroli & Sagone, 2007).
At the age of 18-24 months, children clearly prefer toys that are traditionally boyish or girlish. Moreover, already at ten months of age, girls choose dolls. At the same age, girls and boys are equally willing to play with the truck, cubes, and kitchenware (Serbin, Poulin-Dubois, Colburne, Sen, & Eichstedt, 2001). Nevertheless, parents react differently to these games, clearly favoring sessions with a “suitable” toy, and their reactions are more pronounced in the case of boys (Witt, 1997). Mothers’ stereotypical beliefs regarding gender differences do not approve their daughters playing active games.
As a result, at the age of three years, more than three quarters of boys ask for a gender-specific toy as a gift for the New Year or any other holiday. Unlike boys, girls tend to exhibit a stereotyped behavior much later. At the age of three years, 29% of girls ask for gender-specific toys, while at the age of five years, this percentage is 73%. At the age of six years, 75% of children refuse to change stereotypical toys into those, which are equally suited for both sexes (Serbin et al., 2001).
Gender identity toys often contain specific names or packaging (Schwartz & Markham, 1985). Toys for girls are easy to recognize. Their packaging is usually made in pink or pastel colors and one can find an image of a girl on the box. Furthermore, these toys are connected either with personal care (i.e. toy cosmetics, Barbie doll, etc.), care of the child (baby-doll, carriages) or household chores (toy vacuum cleaners, small ovens, dishes, etc.). Toys for boys are usually wrapped in brightly colored boxes with the image of a boy, and are often associated with the construction (different constructors, cubes) or vigorous activity (sports equipment, weapons, etc.). Psychologists have observed that parents tend to encourage their children’s behavior and games appropriate for their sex and often are suspicious and critical of the deviations from the “norm” (Witt, 1997). In the opinion of parents, just so they will form correct gender stereotypes in children and bring up the boy as a real man and a girl as a real woman.
The fact that the boy sometimes plays with dolls, and parses the baby carriage or the case when a girl loves to design is not pathology, but it is rather a stage that can be useful for the formation of certain characteristics: thoughtfulness, curiosity and logical thinking. Harmonious combination of “male” and “female” traits tends to get supporters of such approach to parenting (Chick, Heilman-Houser, & Hunter, 2002). They do not consider the proposed social stereotypes to the ideal behavior of men and women, but strive to raise their children according to their own ideas. They believe that boys do not necessarily fight, but it would be nice for them to learn to empathize and sympathize with others, help around the house and take care of the younger ones. The “conventional” parents believe that in case such “gender tolerance” is applied, a child might grow as homosexual, and this is not normal (Witt, 1997). This is the main reason for those, who distinguish toys according to the sex.
The current situation requires not only a manifestation of girls’ traditionally feminine qualities (softness, femininity, caring attitude towards others), but also a determination, initiative and ability to defend their interests and achieve results. One should simply instill the manly qualities in boys, since the reality will require them to be tolerant, sensitive and willing to help other people (Sadker & Zittleman, 2009). In addition, nowadays the pure qualities of men and women are not distinguished. Stereotypes of male and female behavior are included in the psychology of the child through the direct observation of the behavior of men and women.
Parents differently assess the behavior of boys and girls (Witt, 1997). Indeed, according to researchers, parents usually react more positively when their children, especially boys, play with toys suitable for their sex. According to psychologists, if boys are sometimes allowed to play with dolls, although it is traditional for girls, the girls’ playing with soldiers (a traditional “boyish” game) is almost never approved (Campenni, 1999). This means that people are more demanding to toys for girls, than to toys for boys in terms of matching sex. Other data argues that if a girl is playing with boys’ toys, it usually remains unnoticed, but if a boy prefers a doll, it is almost for sure the sign of alarm (Clark & Higonnet, 2000). In addition, some people believe that preschoolers of both sexes should be given an opportunity to play common games and toys. They say that at this age, there should not be a clear distinction between boys’ and girls’ games (Sadker & Zittleman, 2009).
For me personally, such division of male and female toys is ridiculous. When I was a child, I had both toys considered to be “girly”, which include dolls, a baby carriage and toy kitchen and “boyish” toys such as cars, constructor and a toy gun. I consider my parents’ attitude to toys to be the right one, since it does not matter what particular toy the baby wants, but the main thing is whether he/she likes it and whether it will bring joy to the kid. Anyway, despite numerous important functions attributed to toys, the main one for any child is joy and entertainment. The child should be interested in a toy, and that is the main reason for buying this of that toy to the baby.
There is nothing special when a boy is playing with a doll. I consider it useful since it can help develop the maternal feelings and a feeling of care. Under the maternal feeling I mean not only the care for future kids, but care for sisters, brothers, parents, grandparents and beloved women – all the near and dear. Nowadays, men are blamed for the lack of emotions and indifference. I think that, among such causes as the living conditions, personal experiences and others, the stereotypic behavior of the parents in terms of the choice of toys for the child plays an important role.
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In addition, such toys as constructor, cubes, pyramids and other toys connected to constructing something are proved to be able to develop fine motor skills. As it is generally known, these toys are considered mostly boyish and are not aimed for girls. Here, one can be confused, since if the constructor is a “forbidden” toy for the girl, than fine motor skills are also unnecessary. However, these skills are necessary for musicians, painters, and simply vital for the daily life. Obviously, there are numerous ways of developing different skills, but as it was said earlier, the game is the simplest and most suitable for a child. Thus, I consider the gender preferences in the choice of toys to be insipient and unmotivated.
Toy as a means of mental development is of high importance. It plays a special role in the emotional and moral development of a child. Toys are objects and images that evoke a variety of feelings in a child, as well as give these feelings a special meaning. Obviously, the education of children with regard to their gender features will largely depend on the individual characteristics of each child, as well as on the behavior patterns of women and men, with whom the child is constantly confronted in the family. Nevertheless, this does not mean that the educational influence that the girl or boy in this tender age experiences will not affect the development of the personality. Manifestation of girls and boys of the character traits allows them to be successful in today’s society. Thus, the child should play with those toys, which help develop his/her character and gives the skills that would be necessary for him/her to become a full-fledged and dignified member of society.