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Beyond Barbie: Raising a daughter Barbie-free

Rachel O'Reilly

“Let’s teach our daughters to worry less about fitting into glass slippers, and more about shattering glass ceilings.” -Unknown

Igniting the budding minds of little girls in playtime activities that engage their interests outside of Barbie play can help to establish a strong sense of worth that has nothing to do with appearances. 

We all know how much little girls and big girls are capable of when their unique abilities and interests are honored and nourished. When I was 4 years old my Mom let me pick out my own outfit in a department store for the first time. I chose a white blazer and matching pants. I wore that outfit every chance I got till I literally busted out of it! It’s hysterical to me to look back on what seemed like a funny and cute act of individuation at the time and realize that was me starting to articulate my desire to lead and understand the business world. As I grew older I did pursue those desires to learn about that "other" world that was business-minded and very different from the more emotive focused activities my wonderful artistic mother shared with me. I deeply treasure the creative interests my mother fostered in me, but I also would have loved for someone to see my desire to understand  the “adult world” from a younger age. Who knows what a little mentoring in that department could have resulted in! 

So, whether it’s a fascination with bugs, the stars that twinkle at night, mom’s business clothes, a drum set, or whatever it may be, try exposing your little one to all sorts of activities and games that are not gender-specific and see what you notice that sparks them! It could just be the very thing they spend a lifetime exploring and gaining true fulfillment from.

To be clear, we're not suggesting that Barbie should never be a part of playtime. And, if your little one really wants a Barbie, we love these Lammily dolls which represent how most women actually look.

If you decide to be a “Barbie free” home it’s OK to share with friends/family that you’re doing so. Who knows, you may start a trend! You can also consider not mentioning Barbie at all and just say “We’re working to reduce plastics in our home, and as such prefer toys/gifts that are plastic-free!” You’ll be amazed by the variety of thoughtfully crafted toys, games, books, and other interesting items that will be gifted.

Here are a few ideas for expanding the minds and hearts of little girls beyond Barbie:

GoldieBlox: Award winning construction toys for girls ages 4+ that strengthen the parts of the brain that are focused on STEM.

Roominate: For girls ages 8+ and similar to GoldieBlox, these toys enable girls to build their dream space, complete with circuits and motors that create lighting and other elements of the built environment.

Matching Animal memory game: We love this memory game made Fair Trade by Moms in vulnerable rural communities. Your purchase means a meaningful toy for your preschooler and an income and independence for Moms who need it most!

Bug/outdoor kits: Turn a walk in the park or a hike into a fun activity to get curiouser about the critters and the natural world around us.Musical kits: For toddlers who just want to rock… This kit comes with everything you need and all components are BPA free.

Musical kits: For rockin' toddlers, this kit comes with everything you need and all components are BPA free.

We appreciate EVERYTHING that Mighty Girl is about, especially their list of empowering shows, movies and books for girls.

Arts and crafts: For toddlers to older kids art is a great way to express creativity, work various parts of the brain and keep them interested for more than 5 mins! Here are some options we think are great.

Inchimals: A fun way to learn about measurements and get the left brain firing!

Interlocking beads: These colorful plastic BPA-free beads are safe for toddlers age 3+, are easy to put together, and encourage sensory development.

Grow crystals: For ages 10+ these crystal making kits are perfect for the curious budding geologist, scientist, or lover of the beauty of the natural world.

The Night Sky: This is a fun book for kids age 8+ and parents to learn more about astronomy and stargazing.

DNA Experiment: This kit makes biology fun and playful for ages 7+!

Monster bowling: An activity for indoor or outdoor that helps gently establish hand/eye coordination at a very young age.

Genius Box: For ages 8-11 these monthly boxes are designed to trigger STEM thinking by putting your kid in the driver's seat to solve the problem at hand with minimal help from adults.

We love Pretty Brainy as a resource and community for parents looking to get their girls more involved in STEM learning… You can even get ideas for DIY STEM activities at home, here!

Any ideas you've experimented with to engage your girl in play time activities sans Barbie? We'd love to hear.