A child’s gender identity emerges early in life, and when gender identity is established, the nature of play changes. Children’s identification of whether they are boys or are girls will result in playing more with other children of their gender (Fagot, 1994; Fagot & Leve, 1998). Once children engage in gender-specific play, they tend to play more with same-gender peers and play less with opposite-gender peers. This tendency increases as the children grow older in the preschool years (Maccoby, 1988).

One source of gender segregation is culture. In some cultures, boys are separated from girls at a very early age. In others, there is little concern for sex segregation, particularly in Western Europe. When these children attend nursery schools, however, they play in same-sex groups (Fagot, 1994).

Family and parenting are a factor in gender differences in play. It has been proposed that parents interact differently with sons than daughters. Moreover, these differences extend to differences in how mothers or fathers interact with sons and daughters. Research on this topic has resulted in disparate results partly because differing research methods have affected findings, studies have resulted in conflicting results, and differences in children’s personalities and behaviors affect parent interactions (Lindsey, Mize, & Pettit, 1997).

Sex-types play choices can be seen at about 2 years. Boys spend more time playing with blocks, transportation toys, guns, and manipulative objects; girls spend more time playing with dolls, stuffed animals, and art materials (Fagot & Leve, 1998).