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Does your son love to play with dolls? Mine does

Maureen used to be obsessed with baseball -- and then she had children. After she welcomed her son, Charlie, and his extra chromosome, she discovered her passion for writing about Down syndrome and disability-related issues.

With two tod...

New dolls help boys break free from the 'pink aisle'

Lately, my 4-year-old son is obsessed with one of his sister's toys: a sweet baby doll her grandmother gave her when our youngest son was about to join the family. Charlie plays with her, talks to her, makes her dance and, as boys' play tends to include, he sends her head-first into a carefully configured line of cars and trucks. The images can be a little unsettling — after all, baby dolls are meant to be cradled and cooed to, right?

Then I heard about Wonder Crew: a line of dolls for boys (and girls!) with some rough-and-tumble, real-boy-like outfits that offer boys the opportunity to be themselves without being forced into "the pink aisle."

Laurel Wider began to envision Wonder Crew when her son returned from preschool one day and announced boys aren't supposed to cry. Wider was determined to find a toy to help her son tap into his emotions but immediately noticed a gap.

"Many toys marketed to boys place such an emphasis on muscles and aggression," she says.

"One of the challenges we face raising boys is that we want our boys to be kind, caring, and gentle, while not becoming the victim of other boys," explains Diana, whose 3-year-old son has tested and approved a prototype Wonder Crewmate. "We want them to develop their own style."

Wider imagined the ideal toy: "Something like a friendly action figure that a kid could adventure out with, take care of and, yes, even cuddle." She wanted to avoid "muscle-bound action," noting such dolls smack of unrealistic body image ideals. And while Wonder Crew was inspired by her son, "We know girls are interested in adventure and friendship, too!" she says. "I was one of those girls!"

Today, Wider has launched a Kickstarter campaign. "Our motto is, 'Go anywhere. Be anything.' Wonder Crew is all about helping kids realize and experience their full potentials. We want to help kids be themselves."

Wonder Crewmate prototypes have enjoyed "play dates" with children like Diana's son and others who may have shed a few tears when their Crewmate had to head home to Wider.

"The Wonder Crewmate reflected more of the values that we hope to instill in our son and our daughter," shares Bronx resident Veronica, a psychotherapist and mom of two. "Being adventurous doesn't have to be linked with only aggression."

Wider wants customers to understand Wonder Crew is not intended to "soften boys up," as one critic complained. "Emotional intelligence, connection, empathy are real strengths — nothing soft about this," she says. "Research actually shows that strong relationships and the ability to connect emotionally are key to happiness, health and even career success."

Massachusetts mom Tamara's approach to toys is neither black-and-white nor pink-and-blue. "I tell my kids constantly that there are no such things as 'girl colors' and 'girl toys' or 'boy colors' and 'boy toys,'" she explains. "I have a boy and a girl and they do share toys... I never want them to feel locked into an aisle or type of toy."

What's next for Wonder Crew? Wider says she plans to expand Crewmates to "represent all kids in terms of race, gender and ability." Check out Wonder Crew in action on YouTube.

More about toys and gender stereotypes

Raising girls: "They told me Legos are just for boys"
6-Year-old girl calls out sexism in Planes and Star Wars toys
GoldieBlox: Engineering toys for girls

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