Of Engineering, Beyblades, and Exposure – or noticing gender differences in the toys we play with

I remember working very intensely in engineering school, and doing well, but thinking if only I had grown up playing with trucks and mechanical things I would have had a more natural understanding of what I was doing. No doubt I’m exaggerating that memory, because I did like playing with my father’s Erector Set and I loved my 101 Science Kit. Engineering, though an applied science, was very academic to me, and luckily I was good at academics. Barbie did not serve me well in the realm of absorbing physics and scientific knowledge at a young age, though. And I think the way we play as children makes a difference.

The reason why this comes to mind again is because my sons have discovered Beyblades. These are a very gender specific toy. Beyblades are basically spinning tops, but they are marketed as battle spinners. Set these little armored plastic discs spinning in a little plastic arena and watch them knock into each other, bounce off the walls, and eventually fall over or even explode apart! Last Beyblade spinning is the winner. My boys LOVE them.

I did NOT love them…at first. Didn’t like all those pieces flying around. Didn’t like that noise. Didn’t like the cheap little plastic “stadium.” So I hid those toys for a long time. They were stashed in the basement, awaiting the day when I would finally get rid of them. But the kids like to explore the basement, and they found them. And I am very glad that they did.

As I watched them play with these toys again, I tuned out the noise, and I just observed the action. My kids were getting hands-on experiential exposure to the physics of spinning bodies. Wow. They didn’t even know it. And they don’t have to. They just have to play.

So, here’s what I am thinking:

  1. Get some basic tops for your kids. Simple, wooden, inexpensive. Put them in a basket somewhere easy for your kids to access. Watch your kids play. You should play, too. Note, too, that tops are “fidgets” — nice little toys for occupying your hands while you listen or pay attention to something else.
  2. Get other fun tops. We had a blast with tops that had markers on their tips. The kids competed (yes, everything IS a competition) for who made the best “masterpiece.” This is the one we got: DoodleTop
  3. Get a simple gyroscope. Step up the spinning and get one of these so that your kids can experience the momentum and forces associated with spinning. Another benefit of a gyroscope is that it requires slightly less fine motor skills to set it spinning. Just pull the string.
  4. Get Beyblades. Ha! No, you really don’t have to do that. But consider…when does your child get exposure to things that spin? (Those awesome playground merry-go-rounds just don’t spin as fast as they used to…liability issues.)

I am curious to know if any other parents or teachers know of a toy marketed to girls that is similar in its spinning wonders. Let me know in the comments below.

(Mathematically…playing with Beyblades will not directly teach your child math. But fiddling around with toys like these ignite curiosity and will give your child hands-on experience with physical forces, which they will be introduced to in mathematical form in high school Physics class. If they have spent their childhood playing with these forces, they may more easily connect their concrete experiences to abstract equations and formulas.)

5 thoughts on “Of Engineering, Beyblades, and Exposure – or noticing gender differences in the toys we play with

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  1. I don’t have an answer yo your specific question, but we made tops out of “found items” once (they came in an inexpensive kit from the Museum of Craft and Design. I cheated because I only had to find the kit). Take an old CD and (hot) glue a marble at the opening to the center hole. Stick a decorated label on the other side. (Hot) glue a plastic screw top lid from a recyclable plastic drink bottle (you’re basically looking for the kind of screw-on top that comes from a soda bottle) over the center home on the side opposite the marble. Use the bottle cap handle to spin the CD top on its marble tip. So fun to see which designs get more interesting with motion!

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