Girls today have many options when it comes to toys and play activities. Just look at any online retailer with a page labeled “girls” and find everything from electronics to arts and crafts kits. While these playthings can be great, they seem to take away from the imaginative part of play.
A wonderful source of imaginative play is the great outdoors. This does not have to be a big beautiful forest; it can be as simple as a local park, a playground, or even the tiniest of backyards. According to the National Environmental Education Foundation, children have lost 50% of their unstructured outdoor activity over recent decades. Outdoor imaginative play is not just about keeping kids fit and healthy (though studies show that it reduces stress, can help alleviate the effects of ADHD, and helps prevent obesity) it is really about fun! The outdoors provides many opportunities free of cost. Instead of playing a video game, kids can pretend to be their favorite game character on an adventure. Rather than using a craft kit from a box, why not make your own jewelry using real flowers? Think about the possibilities of building a secret hideout, or making a mud meal. These types of unstructured play can provide hours of entertainment, and also build motor skills, problem solving abilities, and teamwork.
I asked three different age groups of girls and women about their favorite toys and ways to play. There was a distinct difference over just a few generations. Older women recall fond memories of playing with dolls, swimming, and playing outside with the neighbors until the streetlights came on. Girls from my generation responded similarly, with a couple suggestions of computer or video games. The girls still in the midst of their girlhoods had a variety of answers as well. They suggested many types of electronic games, and it seemed important that their dolls talk or move on their own. Could these answers be due to the statistic that parents are 16% less likely to take their girls outside to play than their boys? I hope that the current generation of girls will find inspiration to use their imaginations to play outdoors, and that those of us who have graduated from girlhood will be there to encourage these activities. Remember, there is no harm in making mud pies, your girls will hose off quite easily!
-Hillary Hanel
Junior Girl
Girl Museum Inc.

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