Expert: Those building toys under the tree aren’t just for boys

December 3, 2015  

Cardella toys

Nelani Render, left, and Natalia Gajdzik show engineering and building toys are for girls, too, as they play with a building set featured in this year’s INSPIRE Engineering Gift Guide.

(Purdue University photo)
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WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — Parents tend to purchase STEM-related toys for boys more often than girls, according to a Purdue University expert.

For the second year, INSPIRE Research Institute for Pre-College Engineering issued a holiday gift guide promoting a number of toys, games and books that support the development of knowledge and skills related to STEM fields – science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

Monica Cardella, associate professor of engineering education and director of INSPIRE, and Jacob Inman, alumnus of the INSPIRE Undergraduate Pre-College Research in STEM, observed gender bias in the purchase of STEM toys.

Cardella says engineering-oriented or building toys are purchased for boys twice as often as girls. The same is true in the purchase of toys that develop physics knowledge/skills, demonstrating the stereotypical “boy’s toys” idea.

Cardella says the purchasing trend could be a factor in the lack of women in technical engineering fields. “Engineers frequently talk about how building-oriented toys sparked their initial interest that led them to engineering.”

Her expertise demonstrates the importance of purchasing STEM-oriented toys for all children.

“The building and construction toys in particular can help children develop skills and understanding of concepts that are important for engineering: spatial reasoning skills, understanding of material properties and a process of designing things that either meet a user’s needs or solve a problem,” Cardella said.

Cardella looked at online customer reviews of the different STEM toys on different toy websites to determine who was buying certain toys and for whom the toys were intended. Similar patterns of toy purchase were found regardless of whether the adult purchasing the toy was a parent, grandparent or other relative.

INSPIRE’s Engineering Gift Guide lists toys as well as games, books and apps that have received positive feedback from both girls and boys, including local Girl Scout troops and school children.

Elizabeth Gajdzik, INSPIRE assistant director and coordinator of the toy guide, said Cardella’s work demonstrates the trend that parents particularly see engineering-oriented gifts, such as building toys, as being for boys.

“We’re hoping to show that these toys are for everybody, girls and boys,” she said. 

Writer: Brian L. Huchel, 765-494-2084, 

Sources: Monica Cardella, 765-496-1206,

Elizabeth Gajdzik, 765-494-9599, 

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