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Gifts for Kids: The Gender Divide

A childhood educator weighs in on the importance of gender-neutrality in toys.

Gifts for Kids: The Gender Divide

There’s no such thing as a girl’s toy or a boy’s toy. Many boys like pink and, of course, girls like blue. Girls build with blocks, they play with worms, and they love to dress up as super heroes. Boys draw princesses, they read Pinkalicious, play with dolls, and they like to cook. Their diversity of interest defines what it means to be human and its what’s incredible about childhood.

With the holiday season--and holiday shopping--upon us, it’s worth thinking about the gifts you buy through the lens of childhood education and social development. Especially in light of Target’s announcement earlier this year to “identify areas where we can phase out gender-based signage to help strike a better balance…signs will no longer feature suggestions for boys or girls, just kids.”

If Target stays true to its promises, this holiday season you won’t find pink, blue, yellow or green on the back walls of shelves. The store will still sell Barbie and GI Joe, only you won’t find them separated in the boys or girls aisle. People will have to purchase with intention according to children’s interest.

As a long-time preschool educator and mother of three, I applaud this decision which struck me as non-controversial and long overdue. And yet, when Target announced the change on their website, the store received a highly critical public response. “Target made a mistake,” “I’ll no longer shop there,” “They’re too PC,” “The transgender minority is behind this,” etc. I think we should put all of this in perspective.

Babies come into the world ready to learn, every minute of every day. They learn from their environment, from the words they hear at home, and ultimately the culture in which they are raised. Marketing drives perception and behavior of the adults who will fill baby’s world with things, and those things, in turn, will impact a child’s perception of self, as well as their interests. In the consumer society, that cycle begins at birth and has a powerful impact on defining and leading gendered play at home, on the playground and even in school.

New parents, relatives without kids, and children themselves are vulnerable consumers. The girl who likes to play with Legos in school might select a doll in the store simply because Mommy only walks down the pink aisle. The boy who likes to string beads and paint at camp might never signal that interest to grandma who is walking only down the blue aisle. Unlike teachers who get to know so many children over a career that the exceptions define the norm, most consumers are at the mercy of the market.

The gendered system of signage limits and leads in unnecessary ways, ways that can ultimately make a child question their natural attractions if they go against the assumptions of the surrounding world and thereby narrow a life’s path. The beauty of an early childhood classroom, however, is that all experiences, from mud pies to decorating birthday crowns, are open to everyone. How absurd would it be if the block area had signage in blue, beckoning only the boys with pictures of boys! What if the dollhouse area made visual appeal to girls alone? We wouldn’t stand for it because parents and teachers in a school context are more aware that children need access to a very wide range of experiences in order for their brains, and singular personalities to grow. We celebrate the openness that invites children to explore options.

I hope that Target’s recent decision opens new territory for play at home. In the shift away from gendered signs, Target is advocating for kids to be kids. The store is forcing parents to pay attention and purchase with intention according to the individual child’s interests. Look more closely, find that special something that really speaks to your child, follow their lead and transcend predictive shopping that limits possibilities now and in the future. Remember that color has no particular appeal to boys or girls, and think twice about how you make purchasing decisions for your children through this holiday season and beyond.

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As much as I love fall, it always feels like the season when my family's routine gets kicked into overdrive. With our oldest in (homeschool) kindergarten, my youngest on the brink of entering her twos, work, housework and *all the things* filling my day, it's hard not to feel a little overwhelmed sometimes. Did I mention we're still in a pandemic? (Yeah, it's a lot.) And while I try to take a positive view as much as I can, now more than ever I definitely jump at the chance to take anything off my busy plate.

One thing first in line at the chopping block? Cooking. To be fair, I like cooking. I cooked most of our meals long before I had ever even heard of social distancing. But there's something about the pandemic that suddenly made cooking every single meal feel exponentially more draining.

Enter Daily Harvest. They deliver nourishing, delicious food right to your door. Daily Harvest's mix of smoothies, bowls, flatbreads, snacks and more provide a balanced, whole food options that are as satisfying as they are nutritious. But my favorite part? When we're ready to eat, I simply pull the food from the freezer and it's ready in minutes—without any chopping, measuring or searching for a recipe. Even better, they're incredibly tasty, meaning I'm not struggling to get my girls to dig in. Not cooking has never felt so good.

Here are my 8 favorite products that are helping to lighten my load right now:

Mulberry + Dragonfruit Oat Bowl

Mulberry + Dragonfruit Oat Bowl

One thing that actually helps break up the monotony of quarantine? Trying and introducing new ingredients to my family. I love this overnight oat bowl (add milk the night before and let it set in your fridge overnight—easy-peasy!) because not only does it not compromise on nutrition, but it also helps me bring new whole fruits, vegetables and superfoods to the table with ease.

Mint + Cacao Smoothie

Mint + Cacao Smoothie

I kid you not, these taste exactly like a mint chocolate chip milkshake. (Just ask my 4-year-old, who is constantly stealing sips from my glass.) What she doesn't know? She's actually getting organic banana, spinach and chlorella with every sip. #momwin

Kabocha + Sage Flatbread

Kabocha + Sage Flatbread

Our family's eating habits have been leaning more plant-forward this year, which often means a lot of veggie washing, peeling and chopping every time I cook. That's why these flatbreads are my new best friend come lunchtime. This Kabocha + Sage Flatbread is made with a gluten-free cauliflower crust topped with kabocha squash, fennel and sage for a taste of fall in every bite. (Missing the cheese? You can add it before baking for more of a pizza feel.)

Kale + Sweet Potato Flatbread

Kale + Sweet Potato Flatbread

There's something about the combination of sweet potato crust topped with red cabbage, organic greens and an herby-cilantro sauce that is so delicious… like surprisingly delicious. I polished off this bad boy in seconds! And unlike other "veggie" crusts I've tried, these are actually clean (AKA no fillers, preservations, partially-hydrogenated oil or artificial anything). Plus, it couldn't be easier to throw in the oven between conference calls and homeschool lessons.

Cacao + Avocado Smoothie

Cacao + Avocado Smoothie

Any time I get to serve a breakfast that tastes like chocolate, it's a good day. (That goes double when it's *my* breakfast.) This rich, chocolatey smoothie is packed with organic zucchini, avocado, pumpkin seeds and pea protein for a nourishing mix of healthy fats and muscle-building protein so I can carry that baby all day long. And did I mention the chocolate?

Vanilla Bean + Apple Chia Bowl

Vanilla Bean + Apple Chia Bowl

Maybe it's just me, but after a long week of cooking, the last thing I want to do on Saturday morning is...wake up and cook. That's why these one-step breakfasts are saving my weekend. I simply add our favorite milk the night before and store the bowl in the fridge overnight. Come morning, I have a nutritious chia bowl that powers me through even the busiest day of errands. It's also Instagram-ready, which makes me feel like I'm out brunching (even if I can't remember the last time I was in a restaurant).

Cacao Nib + Vanilla Bites

Cacao Nib + Vanilla Bites

My kids have turned into snack monsters during quarantine, and I'm often struggling to find a wholesome option (that doesn't require a lot of extra cooking or else I resort to something ultra-refined and shelf-stable). These bites are the hero I never knew I needed. For one, they taste like cookie dough, but they're actually packed with chickpeas, pumpkin, dates and flax seed (among other whole ingredients). But unlike actual cookie dough, I don't have to go anywhere near my mixer to whip them up—all I have to do is pull the container out of the freezer, let them defrost a bit and we can all enjoy a treat.

Cauliflower Rice + Pesto Harvest Bowl

Cauliflower Rice + Pesto Harvest Bowl

Sometimes I have a little more time to cook, but I still want a quick, stress-free solution. (Especially because it always feels like I just cleaned up from the last meal.) I love these Harvest Bowls because they warm up in under five minutes on the stove top (or microwave!) but pack tons of flavor. The Cauliflower Rice + Pesto bowl is one of my favorites, with basil, olive oil and nutritional yeast for a hearty dish reminiscent of a mouth-watering Italian meal. When I'm feeling extra fancy, I add leftover grilled chicken or a fried egg.

Strawberry + Rich, Rippled Berry Compote Scoops

Strawberry + Rich, Rippled Berry Compote Scoops

Who doesn't want to end the day with a little something sweet? This creamy and decadent frozen treat from Daily Harvest is swirled with sweet berries and tropical dragonfruit for an antioxidant burst you'll feel good about—but that your kiddos will just think is ice cream. Go ahead, take credit for being the best mom ever.

Want to try it yourself? You can get $25 off your first box of Daily Harvest with code MOTHERLY.

This article was sponsored by Daily Harvest. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas

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