As a nanny, it is often difficult to find activities and games that will interest all of the children in your care. The boys may not want to play house and the girls are not always interested in rolling around monster trucks. However, there are many gender-neutral activities that will engage your children, regardless of gender, and teach them to work together and embrace the co-ed time.
Boys and girls may have different physical abilities, but any type of active game or sport can engage your co-ed group. Launch a game of kickball, soccer, baseball or football in the backyard or at a local park to help your little ones learn how to work together and get fit at the same time. According to research published by Athabasca University, sports with the highest participation across gender are typically the most neutral ones, such as swimming, biking, hiking, running and soccer.
According to Joyce Mikal-Flynn, associate nursing professor at Sacramento State University, physical activities are ideal for both boys and girls because they do not push children into a category that is pre-prescribed based on gender bias. “It is simply the opening up of activities and the variety from more sedate to physical activities while allowing children to participate naturally rather than being prescriptive,” she says. “In school or at a party, free play or free socialization is great on so many levels. It is a learning tool to develop social skills, problem solving, creativity and is awesome for brain development and health.”
That being said, it can be exhausting to have an activity planned at all times. Although structure is beneficial for children, allowing them time to play freely as co-eds can help them develop their own gender-neutral activities as well. “Although you want to be as gender-neutral as possible, it may be virtually impossible to keep children from engaging in gender-specific play,” says Mikal-Flynn. “I think the biggest part is for a parent to guide and stay out of the way.”
Opening up the playroom for free play gives your children the chance to explore toys and games suitable for both genders. You provide the tools and the toys and let them have at it. For example, stock a room with blocks, puzzles, stuffed animals and matching games. There is no harm in adding gender-specific toys, such as dolls and trucks. You may be surprised that girls may gravitate toward “boy” toys and vice versa. The key is to let kids of both genders decide what they want to play with during free play.
A Splash of Color
For parties and even classroom activities, fun with colors will appeal to both boys and girls. The options to create artwork and mix and match colors are endless, according to Susie Monday, education consultant and author of The Missing Alphabet: The Parent’s Guide to Developing Creative Thinking in Kids.
Monday suggests the following “color” activities for gender-neutral play dates and get-togethers:
- Throw a color-themed party where kids help decorate rooms with crepe paper and streamers
- Create collage projects from magazines and newspapers, highlighting their favorite color
- Add food coloring to shaving cream to make colorful paintings
- Break out kaleidoscopes to look through, or create your own with colored cellophane wrapped around cardboard rolls
- Launch a color treasure hunt throughout the neighborhood
Regardless of gender, it’s important to stimulate brain activity by exposing children to lines, shapes, colors, movement, sound, space, light, texture and rhythm, says Monday.
Both little boys and girls have wild imaginations. Encourage their creative minds with gender-neutral imaginative role plays and performances. Ask each child to choose an animal and help them piece together dress up clothes or costumes made from cardboard to mimic their favorite reptile, mammal or canine. You could also launch a career day dress-up party by reflecting on their future goals. If Sally wants to be a doctor and Jake wants to be a cowboy, prepare them for the workforce by helping them dress the part. If you let them know that the sky is the limit, they may not feel tempted to retreat into gender-specific or stereotypical careers for the imaginative play time.
Spruce up the dress-up time by encouraging your children to act the part. Ask your cowboy to wrangle in his crew and your doctor to sing a silly song to cheer up her patients. Kids, regardless of gender, will enjoy imagining the future and hopefully will learn to work together during co-ed play.