I’m chatting with my new friend, an expat from the United States, at my kitchen table. Our 3-year-olds play in the next room, with our preschoolers toddling around the kitchen. The typical Dutch spread of cheese, chocolate sprinkles, butter, and bread is splayed out on the table. She spots the large dollhouse in the center of the playroom and asks, “How old is your little girl?”
“No girl,” I reply. “Just the three boys. They love that thing. They played with dollhouses at their friends’ houses and at school all the time. They begged me to find them one of their own.” The need to justify the utility of the dollhouse for boys feels strange, even as it leaves my lips.
Parents don’t typically buy dollhouses for boys. Gender-neutral clothes? Sure. Girls embracing “boy” toys like construction sets, robots, or baseball mitts? We cheer it on. But many parents still think dollhouses are a girls’ toy. That’s the message conveyed by manufacturers who produce dollhouses with over-the-top decorations you’d never see in a real house, pink and purple color schemes, and gender-specific themes. Boys are pushed to engage in imaginative play in more physical ways. They go outside and play knights, superheroes, or cops and robbers.
There’s value in those games, of course. But dollhouses teach about the value of home, care, and family. I challenge you to name more important elements for a happy life! All healthy relationships require the ability to be nurturing, even if you never get married or have children. Boys need to experiment with interpersonal interactions as much as girls do.
Plus, dollhouses are fun! They’re a great way for kids to enact fears and passions. In a dollhouse, the kids are the puppet masters now. Mom and dad are no longer in charge. Kids hold all the power to manipulate family behavior, parent-child interactions, and decor.
Our Dutch-looking dollhouse made its way into our playroom during our second Kings Day, a yard sale held throughout the Netherlands on April 27 to celebrate the king’s birthday. An early morning downpour left sellers itching to get off the wet streets and back to their cozy houses, so everything was on super sale. As luck would have it, I found our dollhouse right away. A Dutch weigh house: slim, tall, and deep. Its bright red doors slid open on each of its four floors. A traditional cantilever beam stuck out from the front, its pulley ready to load gear; a crank wheel on the side of the house allowed kids to haul anything up on a rope.
I’ll admit that as I rode the large dollhouse through the rain in my cargo bicycle, I worried it would gather cobwebs in a corner, or worse, be karate-chopped to pieces. Plus that hook on the end of the pulley rope seemed destined for someone’s eye.
Yet as soon as it found a spot in the playroom, the dollhouse became the center of play. Sometimes it’s pretend families of critters like mice and birds inhabiting the house. My oldest uses the house as a venue for games of hide-and-seek to amuse his little brother. When the 3-year-old hit his sorting phase, the house became his showroom, with each floor of the house filled with objects of a different color. Each one was, of course, delivered by that pulley.
As in most domestic environments, tempers fray. Rough play busted several of the doors. (The 6-year-old is now an expert door repairman.) The house has toppled a few times, once after reading The Wizard of Oz. The hook has even found its way into the baby’s mouth more times than I would like to admit. Yet it still sits in the center of the playroom at the ready for the next adventure.
Last Christmas my boys asked for another dollhouse. However, the parental planning committee was concerned that any new development should embody the look and feel of the Dutch weigh house. How would we ever find a seamless addition to our play space? A quick internet search for the word “dollhouse” confirmed my worst fears: pink, plastic, and prefab, like the dream houses of my childhood.
Undeterred, I translated my search terms into Dutch and headed to Marktplaats, the Dutch equivalent of Craigslist. Houses were—as they should be—gender-neutral. There were small ones with open backs, ones made out of logs, and even modern cubist versions. In the end, I opted for a house that needed some updating—a project for the whole family. The boys and I worked to paint the house, wallpaper each room, and even install a firepole where once were stairs. The project became the play.
If you can’t buy a dollhouse in the Netherlands, I found some great-looking gender-neutral houses for you. Finding the perfect dollhouse for your family is intimate business. Choose the right one, though, and you’ll open the door to hours of creative play.
$379, Elves & Angels
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