Will This Toy Get My Kid into Harvard?

Hi Readers! Here’s my piece from today’s Wall Street Journal:

PARENTS ARE TAKING THE FUN OUT OF TOYS by Lenore Skenazy

Remember when a ball was just a ball? Now it is a tactile stimulating sensory aid that helps develop gross motor skills.

Really. Strolling through the international Toy Fair at the Javits Center in New York City last week was like walking through the brightly painted halls of a children’s hospital—at once cheery and sad. Cheery were the shiny bikes and busy ant farms. Sad was the way the marketers made it sound like they were peddling early intervention in a box.

Take “Baby’s First Construction Marble Raceway Set” from Rollipop—a very cute plastic set of chutes and curves that any marble would be delighted to loop through. It looked ready to delight any kid, too, and better still keep him occupied while Mommy checks her BlackBerry. But according to the box copy, this was no mere diversion. It was an educational show-stopper that “encourages hand-eye coordination,” even while “visually stimulating” the brain and developing “fine motor skills.”

Read the rest here!

95 Responses

  1. Well… yeah. It’s kind of like how they say avocados have no cholesterol and jelly is fat free. True, Yes. Ridiculous? Yes. Good for advertising? Yes.

    The toys are still just the same toys, just as they always were. Avocados have never had cholesterol because they’ve never had any kidneys. Children’s toys have always been visually stimulating – that’s just another word for pretty, and have you ever seen a grey or beige ball? And hand eye co-ordination and fine motor skills? To be blunt… at that age, there’s nowhere to go but up, so any sort of play will pretty much do as described.

    Much like all other advertising, any sane adult will take it with a bucket of salt. Remember, the people who have bachelor’s degrees in professional lying need jobs too.

    http://www.dilbert.com/strips/2011-02-20/

  2. I gave my toddler one of those balls that is supposed to educate and visually stimulate their brains. What a ripoff.

    Unfortunately, he only likes to roll it and throw it on the ground. To my horror this causes him to laugh and giggle. Sometimes he will bring me that ball and say something like,

    “Play Mama. Please ball. Red. Ball. Play. Please, Mama mama mama.”

    No amount of explaining can get my 22 month old to understand that he is supposed to be learning skills to enhance his preschool application.

    Okay…I am totally joking. I am one of those crazy moms who doesn’t give a damn if her kid gets into a “good pre-school”. I believe in summer vacation and doing a whole lot of nothing.

    I believe that learning comes from just playing without an agenda! My 22 month old knows all his primary and secondary colors, as well as black, grey, brown, and white. Not because of some stupid electronic toy or some stupid “agenda” of ours…he just picked it up because we draw a lot with him.

    And when I mean draw….I mean taking a crayon and scribbling because it is fun and that is what toddlers like to do. Not to enhance their understanding of the art world.

    Your toddler is as impressed by your stick figures as you are by Rembrandt. So don’t think you need to do the Baby Art Classes either.

    Here is a truth: When you take Baby Art Appreciation your child will be eating the glitter while you complete the project. For real.

    I

  3. An exercise bike for toddlers? A DVD *about* water? It’s not just the marketing that’s horrible, it’s the way these things take kids away from real life and real learning.

    So glad a ball is still an acceptable device for encouraging important skills and growth. Have to wonder if it would be acceptable if they couldn’t find a way to make it sound educational – what if it really were just fun?

  4. Love it Lenore! Well actually I don’t but you know what I mean. I am always hesitant to park my kid in front of the TV longer than necessary. I don’t get the fascination with anything video related.

    And I wish this underlying pressure to make our children brilliant via play and public schools to compete in the international marketplace would just go away. It’s a terrible thing for parents. 50 years ago we weren’t worried about competing so much and we excelled, nationally, at almost everything. Now I feel like I’m letting down my country if I make my kid go to 2 years of preschool. Something isn’t right. I hate this constant environment of learning. (that sounds nuts right) It’s overwhelming.

  5. Nothing turns me off a toy than one that has “Educational” stamped on it… we have a lovely toy store nearby that is packed with the most amazing wooden toys – I could play all day!!! But all the educational stamps on everything just make me tired!!! When fridge magnets become “tools for learning dexterity and depth perception” then I just don’t want to buy them… When a marketer tells you that if you one year old doesn’t play with their foam blocks for an hour evert day then they will not learn necessary memory retention skills. Necessary for what, it just sounds so boring and I am not even a kid!!! Hopefully our kids are blocking their ears!!!

  6. glad you mentioned fischer price. As much as the toys are great I own very very few. I always cringe when I see an ad for some big plastic monstrosity that is a play mobile, that turns into a table, that turns into a bike, that grows with your child, to suit their every changing needs blah blah.. not to mention in reality they are just plastic crap but their toys/infant growing whatevers are just TOO big for my small house and four children. the last baby has grown up with almost no (baby) toys and she is perfectly fine, if not more advanced :)

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  8. I just wrote a sleep ditty on my blog about the danger of making EVERYTHING a learning opportunity. Similarly, a neighbor parent was decrying how she buys ‘all these toys’ but he plays with dirt. :-)

  9. Loved your review of the toy fair. That TV Bike thing has always made me shake my head as we passed it at the big box toy store. Seems like it would be easier and more beneficial to ride around the neighborhood singing. Heck. Go Technical and ride around the neighborhood with an MP3 Player. Mom and Tot could both be listening in. . . . . Or they could talk to each other about the cool bugs in the gardens. . . . .

  10. Amazing how putting “educational” on the box doubles the price.

    It’s magic I tells ya.

  11. I always found there to be something a bit dumb about ‘this toy will make your kid smarter’ products – I choose to believe that my daughter is smart, she doesn’t really need ‘smart making’ stuff to make her that way.

    She’s 2 and a half now, and as yet, I still don’t feel the need to take out toys when we go somewhere – she finds the world pretty damn interesting and that really pleases me. Plus sugar packets, the little bowls they sit in, and menus seem to be capable of amusing her for as long as necessary when waiting in a cafe, for example. She seems to get a lot out of them, and that’s fine by me.

  12. I still get sick every time I see the commercial that tells us that we have a “small window of time” to get our kids reading as BABIES! Why let them just be kids?? Gotta push em before they can even speak to be smarter than everyone else’s kids!! Look at my genius! *eyeroll*

  13. I’d actually kind of like a TV bike for myself. I go biking outside too, but that way I could also get exercise while watching the occasional TV show.

  14. Out of curiosity, I recently made a trip to the local teacher’s supply store to see what they had to help improve my 7 year old’s fine motor skills. He’s behind and his teacher recommended that we do extra work to try to “catch him up.” When I told the sales clerk what I was after, and she bombarded me with all sorts of “educational toys”.

    I almost laughed when she brought me a wooden shoe for lacing. “Why would I need that?” I asked of the shoe. “So he can learn to tie his shoes!” she said cheerily. She was dumbfounded when I asked why he couldn’t just use a real shoe. We repeated this performance with snaps, buttons and velcro similators.

    I could have spent a fortune on fancy straws, popscicle sticks, blocks, puzzles and balls. She also tried to sell me a gorgeous cardboard fort, but it had nothing on the one my son made out of his Christmas present boxes, except a price tag. Amazing what people think we’ll spend our money on just because they slap an “educational” sticker on it!

  15. Parents are worried about the future and they’re worried about their kids’ futures. OK, so let’s just ignore all the real education out there and point our kids to the schools that are so well equipped to give them just what they need for that worrisome future . . . (Pls excuse me while I wipe up my sarcasm.)

  16. Loved this piece, Laura. Thank for your continued efforts on behalf of kids, sanity and fun. Did you see the comment on the WSJ from someone who was describing how he learned hand-eye coordination trying to catch frogs?!

  17. When my son got “educational” toys as gifts, he was always more interested in playing with the boxes that they came in. The toys weren’t nearly as interesting.

    I was a “bad” mother who bought a lot of classic toys: Legos, blocks, toy cars and trucks (the big Tonka dump truck was a favorite), plastic animals, knights, pirates, and dinosaurs, balls, wooden trains and tracks. At almost 12, my son and his friends will still play with his Playmobil pirate ship and build complex structures with Legos. I always felt that classic toys were the best and sturdiest. The new “educational” toys are mostly battery-powered and leave almost nothing to the imagination.

    I guess there’s something to these “low-tech” toys because my son’s in a Gymnasium, which is a German school for high achievers. HIs teachers have commented on his imagination when he does creative writing assignments.

  18. Our family loves board games. Over the years we’ve purchased or were given many of the “educational” games. The ones we like best are still the classics. Save your money. Anything labeled educational will not hold their attention more than a few times until they “learn” what they’re supposed to and then it’s no fun anymore.

  19. One of my former colleagues told me that when she and her brothers were being obnoxious, her mom would take a big handful of pennies (and maybe a dime or quarter in there for grins) and chuck it into the backyard and tell them to go hunt for treasure. Fine motor skills, observational skills, counting, self defense (when your sibling tries to steal your findings)…it’s all there, baby.

  20. Well its official– Call of Duty: Black Ops is not only a tool that increasesw hand-eye coordination, it prepares your 8-year-olds for a future in the US Army. Thus, it is an educational tool, so quit complaining about the level of violence and cursing in the game, and lower the rating from “Mature” to “E” for everyone ;)

  21. Oh, I feel so at home amongst you people! Sara, If you lived where I lived or I lived where you lived, we could be friends! A “whole lot of nothing” make up some of the best days we have here! I have a feeling I’m not the only one who sees a snow day for what it is- not a day of lost education, but a day of creativity and finding joy in the little things lying around the house. Or maybe, a day spent doing absolutely nothing but watching old TV shows and vegging on the couch with books and papers and crayons (that can be good for the soul, too)!

  22. I think we over pressure parents, and we overpressure children, and the advertising companies (as anything else does these days) capitalize on parental guilt. Children are wired to learn. They would learn if they had nothing but leaves and sticks. They would learn if you give them crayons and paper, they would learn if you gave them a normal red ball. They learn no matter what you give them. Companies like to market “if you do not give your child this toy, they will NOT be the smartest kid on the block, and you will be the worst parent.” I cannot tell you how many times I’ve been told by my parents at the daycare that their children are smart because they give them “learning toys” no they’re not. they’re smart because they are children. Because they enjoy learning. This is a subject I am particularly close to, since childcare providers all over the U.S. perpetuate these terms.

  23. “Amazing how putting “educational” on the box doubles the price.

    It’s magic I tells ya.” @gwallan

    That’s it right there. Great article.

  24. I’ve been doing a LOT of research for homeschooling my almost-preschooler and what I’m finding is that most of what we consider “play” has enormous developmental advantages. Something as simple as a conveniently round rock in a dough bowl provides lots of noisy fun (for a toddler), and teaches cause and effect (I drop the rock, it rolls. If I drop it over here it rolls a different way, if I tilt the bowl it can fall out), hand eye coordination (grab the rock while it’s still rolling) and probably more that I haven’t thought of. I won’t even get into things like chasing the cats and scribbling.

    And every parent I know is virtually obsessed with making sure their children start out as “Ahead” as possible so they can be “successful.” Toy manufacturers know all of this and capitalize on it.

    Their claims aren’t bunk. But they are cynical.

    PS – in my opinion there are only 2 questions to ask when defining success: 1) have you turned into a (legitimate) felon? and 2)Are you happy.
    If the answers are “no” and “yes” respectively, then you win.

  25. Kokopuff – I am stealing that idea.

  26. Best toy ever: pretend food. My kids are 7 and 10 and pretty much all the infant/toddler toys have been donated or tossed…except for the play food. They still want that, no no, mom, don’t get rid of that. Cloth food, plastic food, wooden food that you slice, even the dishes and silverware. It still gets used to play restaurant, drive-thru, etc…

    Stuck for a child’s gift? I say go with the food set.

  27. All this extreme amount of emphasis on preparing kids for…what? By the time they are in college they are capable of making their own decisions, including possibly dropping out after two years as my kid did.

  28. I HATE seeing kids with all the electronic reading and learning aids. You know how you teach your kid language? TALK to them. Explain what you are doing. Point to words in a book while you read. And save the money you don’t spend on fancy toys on COLLEGE.

    We’ve been fixing up the house this week and taking the time to teach our almost two year old about tools. And yes, letting her try to use the screw driver without worrying that she would somehow impale herself on it.

  29. Yeah, it’s when they figure out how to use the screwdriver correctly that you need to worry. Unless of course, you enjoy doors without hinges!

  30. Real life is so much more entertaining than TV, at least for a preschooler. When my son was preschool age, he was a “vehicle man” like most other boys his age. He especially loved construction vehicles. In the neighborhood where I used to live, there were some new houses being built. When my son and I were out in the neighborhood, he would inevitably ask me to stop at the construction site so that he could watch the backhoes and dump trucks. If he had his way, he would have stood there all day and watched the construction workers. When given the choice between watching TV or going to the construction site, the construction site won every time. Dump truck driver was one of my son’s career choices when he was in preschool.

    Another of my son’s favorite activities was playing store because he often accompanied me when I went shopping. He would get various toys like Matchbox cars or plastic dinosaurs and set up a store. He was always the shopkeeper and I was the customer with play money that I made out of construction paper. If his store was real, it would have gone out of business on its opening day because the change that he would give me was usually more than the purchase amount. The transactions often went like this: “The T-rex costs $4, and you get $5 for your change.” I never bothered to correct his “math” because he was having so much fun. I knew that he would learn real math later. He would often throw in a pretend piece of candy, fruit, or a cookie just like German shopkeepers do with young children. Again, trying to be like the people that he saw in the neighborhood was more fun than watching TV.

  31. One more thing…When my son was 5, my stepmom bought him one of those electronic devices that “reads” to kids to teach them how to read. He already knew how to read simple books at that age and thought that the device was silly. He preferred having a real person read to him. The other thing about this reading toy was that the cartridges for it were rather expensive. I could buy 3 or 4 good books for the price of one of those cartridges. Fortunately, my stepmother wasn’t offended when my son said that he really didn’t like the reading device. She was able to get a refund and let him use the money to pick out whatever he wanted. He ended up getting himself two Lego sets, which he put together, then took apart, and later combined the pieces from both to make something else completely different.

  32. Life for children will improve immensely the moment we admit that;

    A) HAVING an education is fun. Acquiring one is work, often tiresome, and frequently annoying.

    B) The more ‘educational’ and ‘safety’ claptrap we burden ordinary play with, the more children will take refuge in being sullen lumps. Nothing sucks the fun out of any pastime quite like being hovered over, and if it’s supposed to be ‘educational’ that makes it worse. Children who are aware that everything they do is being subtly warped to make it ‘educational’ will develop a completely understandable resistance to being educated. And the more we shove the more they will dig their heels in.

  33. thought you might like this video.

  34. That “toy” (and I’ll use that term loosely) show makes me sad. Almost as sad as this piece I hear on NPR about a 3 year old who “reads” “books” on her dad’s iPad. http://www.npr.org/2011/02/07/133280134/ipad-storybook-apps-and-the-kids-who-love-them

    Yes – ipads are neat and fun but repeating the cow sound after the ipad said it first, isn’t as clever as making the sound after dad says “and what does the cow say?”

    The sad thing in life is that these kids are going to be parked in front of a computer pretty much from the time they hit high school till the day they retire – give or take a decade or so on either side. Let’s not start them too early.

  35. Maybe this research has been superseded and I missed it, but last I knew, it was shown that all this acceleration stuff generally wears off by about second or third grade, other things being equal. The kids who learned to read and acquire other “educational skills” at early ages wound up all over the bell curve of their schools by the middle of elementary school.

    So either people are being sold, and buying, a bill of goods, or it’s just really good for the ego and your sense of being a Good Parent™ to think that your 3 year old is special because they’re learning all these skills early, or a mixture of both.

  36. I feel like kids don’t really learn anything until they learn it for themselves, when they’re ready to understand and accept it as part of their reality. I watch my son do new things every day and I sit back and wonder, who taught him that? And the answer is, he learned it for himself. I also know that for me, I don’t remember half of what I learned in school (probably less). What I do know and remember are the things that I discovered for myself or that my father helped me to discover when I asked him. That’s what sticks. That’s what true learning is.

  37. I went to a lecture on games in the school/homeschool enviromnent a few years back. Best advice the presenter gave: “If the box says ‘educational’ – the game sucks” .

    We’ve found the classics to the be the most played with in our house – wooden blocks, wooden trains, cars, lego duplos. 95% of the electronic noisemaking gee-whiz toys the inlaws buy are the ones left sad and negelcted. I wish grandparents would listen and stick with the non-electronic toys.

  38. Sticks and rocks made great toys when I was growing up. So did buttons. My grandmother had a tin of buttons that I loved to play with. She used to dump them out on the (fall hazard) high-chair for my mom, aunts, and uncles to play with (choking hazard!) Then she kept them around for the grandchildren and great-grandchildren. I miss my Nana and those buttons :(

  39. I’m a big fan of classic toys, though these days even most of the classics (such as FP Little People) seem to require batteries, and my son loves to push things that make sound on a toy. (I did become somewhat resigned to a few electronic toys when it became clear that he just wasn’t strong enough to manage mechanical button-pushing when he wanted to. This is no longer a problem but we still have the toys *sigh*)

    My son has a condition that *might* involve special needs. Our developmental specialist generally brings basic toys like blocks, bowls, etc. and we tend to imitate what’s in her equipment bag. However, his uncle is always sending electronic ‘learning toys’. While I appreciate the ‘cell phone’ and ‘laptop’ as helpful child-diversions from the real thing, the talking-and-singing puppy was a bit much. Especially since our button-pusher never lets the toy get to the end of a sequence! I don’t have the heart to tell Uncle that the repeated readings of counting books probably will be more helpful to my son’s counting skills than a counting cell phone.

  40. Grandparents really buy into the stimulating = educational and more = better toy hype, too.

    I love you to pieces, but no matter what the packaging says about teaching cause and effect, my baby does NOT need an electronic light-up kick-board play center that flashes and plays music while the number barrel rolls every time he happens to kick and wiggle his feet. The monstrosity looks like a full-body slot machine.

    And at six months, he probably doesn’t need the ten other blinking, flashing, tweeting, talking, and ringing toys he got for Christmas.

  41. I’m having trouble getting too upset about this. Basically, that’s marketing to make parents feel good about the toys they’re buying. Should we worry so much about toys? Probably not, as long as we’re not drowning our kids in them, and they’re playing with the toys they have. But I can’t get all up in arms about this.

  42. I cringe at the word “educational” when it is directly attached to anything for kids. It makes me not want to buy it because, most likely, my kids will find it boring. Same with TV. I hear all the time from other moms that they let their kids watch a little TV but only EDUCATIONAL shows. Why? What the hell is wrong with just being entertained? The more “educational” the show the more my kids find it boring and don’t want to watch it. But mostly those educational shows annoy the hell out of me so you’ll find me trying to convince them to watch Spongebob instead because at least that makes me laugh.
    The toys, too. They get bored of anything “guaranteed to stimulate the mind”. My 4yo daughter’s favorite toy when she was 2? A bucket of wooden blocks. Nothing special about them. No fancy lights, sounds or colors. Just a bucket of plain wooden blocks (and some with plain colors). Some long, some square and a few that were bridge shaped and with a rounded side. Oh, and triangles, too. She LOVED them and built huge towers and castles. She would still play with them if they hadn’t gotten left behind in our move. I’ll probably get her some more eventually. People didn’t believe the “castles” she could build with them. They were elaborate and tall and well balanced. She was only 3 and built them as tall as she was without them tipping over. We think she’ll be an architect or structural engineer when she grows up. She’s got talent and when the tower fell she’d start over and improve the design. Now that’s educational and it’s just some blocks.

  43. I think the obsession with keeping your child constantly involved in organized activities and year round sports goes hand in hand with the fascination of electronic toys. It’s as if no one sees the value in free, unstructured play anymore! How in the world will slopping in the mud possibly help them in the future? Who will settle the fights in a pick up game of kickball if no adults are there? Kids have the rest of their lives to go, go, go and do, do, do at someone else’s pace. Why not let children go at a kid’s pace?

  44. “He ended up getting himself two Lego sets, which he put together, then took apart, and later combined the pieces from both to make something else completely different.”

    This is kind of a different subject, but I think it might be related in a way.

    Why is it that nearly all the kids’ building sets nowadays have to make a particular project? Whatever happened to a big box of assorted bricks or blocks or rods or whatever, with maybe a book of pictures for ideas? I don’t know how many hours I put in as a kid with my huge box of cheap American Bricks and a book showing different buildings you could make out of them — no instructions, just pictures of finished projects so you could figure out how to do it yourself. And then of course, there were the “original designs” I came up with.

    There’s something missing here that I can’t quite put my finger on, but it’s more of the pre-programmed play vs. creativity thing again.

  45. BTW, I know kids *can* take the pieces and make whatever they want, but the reality is that with most of those sets, the assortment of pieces is such that there isn’t a lot of variety in what you can do other than the intended project.

  46. My experience as a mother and a grandmother is that there’s not much little children like better than learning. I’ve almost always bought (and often made) educational toys for our children and grandchildren. I will almost never spend my limited time and money on material that I think has little educational value. Then again, I think a good set of blocks is more educational than a beeping, flashing, electronic toy — and a lot more more so than a children’s video. After all, when were were homeschooling I counted as “school” the whole days my daughter spent with an x-acto knife (in elementary school! horrors!) cutting and assembling paper houses — even though I had no idea she would later put those learned skills to work making oboe reeds.

    I wonder if there aren’t other important factors in this phenomenon. Of course there’s the desire of the toymakers to make sales; in a way this is the same as the labelling of foods as “high in antioxidants.” It’s our own fault if we let them convince us to pay more for the same value.

    More than that, I’ve been observing the education biz long enough to be pretty skeptical of the idea that lots of parents are suddenly interested in doing everything possible to enhance their children’s learning. I know it’s cynical of me, but I can’t help suspecting that many parents are looking for a way to plunk their kids in front of a distracting electronic device and feel good about it. Or hoping to find a formula for genius that involves only money, not effort and time.

    On the other hand, I could probably feel good myself about a TV bike — if it powered the TV and the set did not work if the child (or adult!) wasn’t pedalling. :)

  47. Fun article.

    “And yet parents are buying these DVDs because they seem so developmentally rich.”

    No, not really. Not at all. Parents are buying them because they are baby crack that keeps the baby or toddler from bothering you while you do your thing. And, so as not to feel guilty, we tell other people we’re doing it for the baby’s own enrichment. yeah, that’s why we’re doing it…sure….not so I can read that blog in peace and enjoy my morning coffee…

  48. ] Why is it that nearly all the kids’ building sets nowadays have to make a particular project? Whatever happened to a big box of assorted bricks or blocks or rods or whatever, with maybe a book of pictures for ideas?

    They DO sell boxes of assorted bricks, assorted blocks, assorted legos, assorted bristle blocks, assorted Lincoln Logs, assorted tinker toys, etc. But they also sell what you are talking about – essentially, models.

    Models are in fact classic boy toys, and they eventually become man toys. They’re nothing to be worried about. If you’re learning to sew, that requires learnign to follow a pattern. If you’re learning to build, that also requires learning to follow a pattern. As you get older, you move from abstract creative play with toys to “hobbies” – both are equally fun, but the hobby requires more skill and discipline and the ability to follow some direction.

    Boys (and the occasional girls) who are going to be interest in models typically begin showing that interest around age 8 – 10, so lego models, Playmobil models, etc. are a reasonable choice to have on hand.

  49. @Kathy McC The type of hot housing your talking about actually can damage a child’s ability to read and enjoy reading. If you want a child to be a reader, it is simple fill their lives with story telling. Read to them. Make reading something fun and positive, NOT a negative kill and drill.

    The brain of most very young children is not programed to read yet. There is wiring that is not complete. Kids who learn to read just from cuddling up with Mom and Dad are a different matter.

    Al toys can be educational. Yes even video games if done in moderation.

  50. Sky — I’ll take your word for it that boxes of assorted building pieces are as common as they used to be. I only know that when my kids were of an age where I wanted to buy them, they were either rare or ridiculously expensive. The choices seemed to be gimongo sets of high-end building pieces numbering in the hundreds of pieces and costing almost as many dollars, and “Star Wars”-type lego sets, out of which you could build one or two specific ships with little guys standing around them (just as an example.) It was pretty hard to find a reasonable size, reasonably priced set of just-plain pieces.

    And I’m certainly not criticizing specific model-building sets (my boys and one of my girls have been interested in various types of modeling sets), I was just bemoaning the dearth of more basic, non-specific stuff.

  51. We had a LOT of the classic type toys: Playmobil, Lego, dolls of many types (yes, including Barbie!), trucks, and BOOKS. Lots of books. Nice, sturdy cardboard books the kids could “read” whenever they wanted. Regular books that we read to them. Water toys, shovels, buckets. Sleds for snow. Some videos to watch (my kids love the older Winnie-the-Pooh videos and the ones made of the Beatrix Potter books and -shudder – Barney for a while).

    But looking at my kids, I think that the best thing was, to use Strickland Gillilan’s words (and those of you who wish can substitute father or parent):

    “I had a mother who read to me
    Sagas of pirates who scoured the sea.
    Cutlasses clenched in their yellow teeth;
    “Blackbirds” stowed in the hold beneath.
    I had a Mother who read me lays
    Of ancient and gallant and golden days;
    Stories of Marmion and Ivanhoe,
    Which every boy has a right to know.
    I had a Mother who read me tales
    Of Gelert the hound of the hills of Wales,
    True to his trust till his tragic death,
    Faithfulness lent with his final breath.
    I had a Mother who read me the things
    That wholesome life to the boy heart brings-
    Stories that stir with an upward touch.
    Oh, that each mother of boys were such!
    You may have tangible wealth untold;
    Caskets of jewels and coffers of gold.
    Richer than I you can never be —
    I had a Mother who read to me.”

  52. Oh, just to add: I had girls, not boys, but read whatever they liked to them. The stories had male heroes, female heroes, animal heroes… But they were read to, played with, and allowed to use their imaginations and roam free. That leads to an intelligent, happy child who becomes an intelligent, independent, happy adult.

  53. Wired’s list of the best toys of all time probably didn’t go over well to that crowd.

    Stick
    Box
    String
    Cardboard tube
    Dirt

    Those of course are free or absurdly cheap, which flies against the needs of the toy industry. “Buy this toy or your child will be stuipd” is exactly like the child “safety” industry’s slogan, “buy this product or your child will die”.

    Sorry, not buying it.

  54. I like Wired’s list. I prefer toys without batteries for my kids, both because more of the classic toys lack batteries and for my peace of mind. Educational is in how the kids use them, and it happens in their own way, despite any claims made on the packaging.

    The other thing that drives me nuts is the constant addition of characters to basic games. I don’t need the Disney Princess version, or the Sponge Bob version or anything like that. Just give me the plain one and the kids will be quite happy.

  55. Kathy: That whole “small window” nonsense is based on taking a real finding and then twisting it beyond recognition. That real finding is that there’s a relatively short period in early childhood that, if spent in “Romanian orphanage” levels of neglect, will leave a kid more-or-less permanently behind. But all you can derive from that finding is that it’s a bad thing to leave kids neglected under those kinds of conditions; it is a completely invalid extrapolation to assume that either kids will be harmed by “less than optimal” levels of stimulation/contact in that period, or that extra stimulation in that period will somehow do wonderful things for a kid’s future.

    Linda: I think what’s going on is that parents want to be perceived as “doing everything for their kids.” It’s parenting as social competition. And you’re right, it has no perceived value to them unless it requires spending money. It’s basically a form of conspicuous consumption.

  56. [...] th&#1110&#1109 article: W&#1110ll Th&#1110&#1109 Toy G&#1077t M&#1091 Kid &#1110nt&#959 Harvard? « FreeRangeKids Share and [...]

  57. Right now we are in an evening school field trip to the local science and nature museum. What has amused my kids the most? The pretend grocery store, wooden train track set and plastic cup stacking. That’s right. They have spent the past 30 minutes gleefully stacking regular plastic cups into pyramids with their friends and schoolmates. My question is: why do we need to pay to go to a facility to do this kind of stuff? But plenty of people do!

  58. Most halls of higher education complain that it getting harder and harder to find applicants who don’t need remedial classes or have the proper life skills to make it away from home. So who are these toys really helping?

  59. Educational toys. . . that’s funny. I like toys (so do my kids as it turns out) which require imagination, reward imagination, and, I’ll wager, foster creative thinking better than a blinking, whirring, purpose-built, whiz-bang toy. Best creative toy ever: a good sized box. My kids agree :)

  60. If there is any bright spot in the midst of this madness, it’s that babies cannot read the marketing labels.

  61. toys……………………………
    oh, the joys of toys that make noise……

    I dunno about the stuff that stimulates infants –
    (doesn’t um, EVERYTHING stimulate infants?)

    But toys –
    toys invented by kids…
    toys invented by kids with imagination,
    from stuff that was never intended to be a toy
    but is anyway,
    ’cause the kids make it so.

    In the town I grew up in, us kids stormed down
    the main street sidewalk one day in killer tanks,
    scattering startled pedestrians,
    causing talk and suspicion,
    armed and deadly…………………………………………..

    – in nothing but rolled out giant cardboard boxes
    pilfered from the rear storage shed of the local
    hardware store.

    To a kid, a cardboard box is sorta like 1972 Walmart stock, y’know?
    Endless appreciation.

    Imagine that…………………………………..

  62. Me, I prefer a toy that will last and work as intended. That is why we get most of our toys from yard sales. (Not Legos though, no one wants to sell them.) Someone once gave my daughter a “Pony Castle.” What a piece of junk. Parts fell off and it was frustrating to use. On the other hand, we got one of those music block things at a yard sale that still amuses the kids, and siblings of friends who occasionally come over. But, the set of blocks, FP Little People (old style) and a few other toys will be the ones that sit on the bottom shelf for kids to play with when they visit, much like my grandmother’s bag of blocks that all the kids played with, up until we were teens.

    Give my kids a stick and you have multiple toys. A sword, a light saber, a gun, a wand, a spoon for stirring soup or potions, a tool for digging, a pointer, a cane or walking stick, a bow, spear, arrow, a tool for drawing with. My daughter, as well as my sons, use sticks for any and all of these.

    My 11 year old asked for a refrigerator box for Christmas. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to get one, but I will try harder when it gets warmer as we really don’t have the space inside.

  63. @pentamom

    Those boxes/containers of building things are pretty easy to find. Toys R Us carries all sorts of random building stuff. We bought a huge bucket of plain wooden blocks there a few years ago for like $15. It had 100 pieces I guess in various shapes (half just plain wood and half painted plain colors). They also sell regular old tinker toys, containers of regular legos, lincoln logs and other stuff.

    And my kids (mostly my 9yo son) love anything Lego. We get him those overpriced branded sets (Star Wars, etc) because he wants them but they never stay as what they are supposed to be for long. We’ve talked about not buying them anymore but we found that those funky little pieces that are specific to each project are their favorites. They incorporate them into other projects in the most interesting ways. They’re favorite thing to do is design houses (or recently they switched to castles). They just do the outline but then they build all the furniture (including appliances and stuff). It’s hilarious to see what they come up with and it wouldn’t be possible without those special pieces from the expensive kits.

    My son’s other favorite toy? Those little green plastic army men (a la Toy Story…but not the expensive Toy Story branded ones). You can get a bag at the Dollar Store (for $1) or go to Walgreens and get a bigger bag for $4 with some other stuff in there. He has army men in different colors, firemen, knights, cowboys and Indians and something else. He sets them up in his room (he had like 100 of them at one time) and has a big war. They don’t do anything except make you use your imagination. Classic.

  64. My dad keeps talking about opening a day care. He’d advertise “no learning.” It’s just play time with the occasional movie. For kids who come after school, they’d have some time to do their homework. And then it’s outside to play!

    My parents also have TONS of toys for the grand kids, but the ones that get played with most are the tiny animals in an old cookie tin. My daughter loves to pull them out and sort them and make noises, then practice putting them away.

    My daughter is also in a “tower” phase. I’ll come out of the shower and find a stack of glasses and canned goods on the table, a tower of DVD cases on the coffee table, and she’ll be working on a tower in her room. She brings blocks out of her room and tells me, “Watch this trick!” and stacks them taller than she is.

    Out of all the battery operated, educational, giant toys her grandma has gotten her, her favorite thing is a tricycle. It has a little cubby on the back that she likes to hide things in, like my keys. Or pieces of fruit.

    So the point I’m making, is she’s happiest when I just leave her alone and let her do her thing.

  65. Oh, however, I do plan to do flashcards with her soon. Not because I want her to be “ahead” of the class, but because my mom did it with me when I was little, and I LOVED it. It was great spending the time with her, and I liked being able to read to myself when she was too busy to read to me. There were 9 kids in my family, and we’d all sit in a circle while mom quizzed us on the letter sounds.

  66. Now, is this funny or what? For about six months now, my eldest daughter has been “subjected” to reflex and visual therapy (a nice and effective alternative to ritalin for too-active kids with no ADHD).
    She’s been prescribed with some exercises to enhance certain brain areas that don’t seem to work too well yet. Anyway, so far, the special material we’ve needed to carry out the therapy has included:
    Paper
    Coloured pencils
    A tennis ball, hanging from the ceiling at eye level
    Ropes
    Chairs, set throughout the house in a sort of maze
    A pirate-style eye patch
    A broomstick
    Tin foil balls and plastic cups
    Empty plastic bottles…

    You get the idea. Since we started the therapy, my other kids don’t want to play with their educational toys anymore.
    Maybe it’s hardware stores that need to place the “educational toy” tags on their products…

  67. I love that Lola! Though please don’t encourage hardware stores to do whbarthes toy industry is doing or we’ll just be inundated with specially wrapped empty plastic bottles telling us we are deadbeat parents who don’t care about our kids if we don’t buy them.

  68. “A) HAVING an education is fun. Acquiring one is work, often tiresome, and frequently annoying.”

    I would restate this : Acquiring and having an knowledge is useful and joyous, getting a degree is often tiresome and frequently annoying.

  69. I do agree that toys being given the label of “educational” is pretty ridiculous. But those are the toys I have bought for my kids over the years. Not because the box said it was great for development, but because they are usually toys that promote creativity. I have always hated “junk” toys. The pre-school toys where you push a button and watch the toy play. I hate with a passion the crawling, laughing, singing, giggling Elmo type dolls. Total junk! My kids have lots of toys that the child actually plays with, Lincoln Logs, wooden blocks, Legos, Little People (when they were younger), cardboard bricks, etc. I ignore the educational labels and buy what I buy because I like the toy. My kids favorite thing for years has been to built with some sort of building toy a play area for their little plastic animals to live. Sometimes it’s an animal hospital, sometimes a shelter, sometimes a fancy animal apartment. Then they bring all the animals inside and play for hours. Now those are some good toys, small plastic animals and some wooden blocks :) Another thing they love is the grow an animal toys. You usually have to go to one of the “educational” toy stores to get them but they’re great. You get a container and send away for whatever type of bug/animal you ordered and they you feed it and watch it grow and eventually set it free. I don’t not buy them just because they have the “educational” label and I don’t skip them just because they are in the “educational” toy store. It may be ridiculous to state the obvious on the box, and to feel you have to get overly worried parents to buy your product, but it won’t prevent me from buying a good toy. I would much rather my kids build a K’nex city that watch stupid Elmo laugh all afternoon.

  70. Well, yeah, I agree with educational doodads for little kids. Like: shoelaces, zippers, buttons, crayons, jump ropes, playing cards, books, pretend phones, dollhouses, toy cars/trains, kitchen stuff, brooms, dust cloths, pianos, trees, grass, dirt, bugs, . . . .

    The other day I saw an article about a “creepy” doll that, e.g., lights up where it has a booboo until the child kisses it, etc. I don’t know if it’s creepy or not, but how about limiting? My kids’ dolls do a lot more than that. Why, I’m always hearing about what a nasty diaper my kid had to change, which doll is sick and with what symptoms, which one has been naughty, which is about to get married or have a baby, etc. I really don’t think kids are born needing us to tell them what to imagine. However, if we fill up all their time with “smart” toys, I fear they might not naturally develop that in-born ability.

  71. While I see the point that not everything has to be educational, it doesn’t make the toys less fun.

    And to a kid, everything IS educational. My almost 3 year old spent a good 30 minutes playing with twist-ties the other day.

    The marble thing mentioned in the article sounds great – who cares if it’s being promoted as educational? What MOST CERTAINLY should not be promoted as educational are toys that you don’t have to play with. Where a kid just pushes a button and things happen AT them.

    But what do I know. My kid spent the mornign building a beaver dam out of couch cusions in the middle of the playorom.

  72. Sean, it’s not just acquiring a degree that isn’t always fun and joyous. Ask a kid practicing handwriting over and over, or learning his math facts, or battling through trig problems (my math-adept son’s current dragon) or reading history books when you’d rather be out building a snow fort. My youngest son loves history, in the sense that he absolutely loves knowing and being able to talk about all the cool (and not so cool) things that happened in the past, but at any given moment, he’d rather be out playing than reading about it.

    Gaining the knowledge is satisfying, and there are moments of joy, particularly when studying a favorite aspect of a favorite subject, but trying to make every moment of it fun and painless is self-defeating. The valuable task of education is definitely a no pain, no gain kind of thing.

  73. Jen — oh, yeah, the green army men. My boys love those. My 18 year old still enjoys setting up a battlefield of little army men (of course, we have two colors so we can have a battle) of army men and dominoes with my 9 yo and they go at it with various catapult type weapons to knock each other’s lines down.

    I guess maybe I was trying to find that kind of unstructured building toy for my kids during a bad phase, or something. I haven’t bought significant amounts of toys in years because we accumulated lots when my older kids were younger, and my youngest isn’t much into toys except for simulated battle type stuff (he prefers reading, computer games, and chess) so I’m a little more out of the loop as far as current things go.

  74. A number of things might get your kid into Harvard; toys are not one of them.

  75. …trying to make every moment of it fun and painless is self-defeating. The valuable task of education is definitely a no pain, no gain kind of thing.

    I think we need to distinguish between pain and work. I’m not a believer in “no pain, no gain.” If an activity is painful, I figure I’m probably approaching it wrong. On the other hand, if it doesn’t require hard work, I figure I’m not gaining much.

  76. What will marketing agencies capitalize on next? I’m sure they can find some sort of sell for the all time favorite toy of infants and toddlers…cardboard boxes. Let me see if I can take a stab…

    Nurtures the imagination at a young age, by allowing children to create various structures from the box using their imagination. A fort, a tunnel, a cave…the wonders are endless hours of fun. It also teaches them the value of recycling. Educational and fun. Only 14.99 + s/h.

    Truly, we are a capitalist world. There’s always gullible dummies for all the dummies out there selling their wares. But I bet you, someone will take someone to court for even this cardboard box. lol I’m sure glad I don’t live in “Dummy World”. But then again, you can make a fortune selling rocks there. lol

  77. But in seriousness, infants and toddlers are at such an impressionable age, ANYTHING is a stimulus for their minds. Even their act of trying to crawl, roll, and sit trains the mind. Hand, eye, body coordination. Talking to them stimulates their communication skills. Eating trains their olfactory and taste senses. It’s like these companies are telling parents, if you buy a ball you don’t have to spend time with your kid, because he’ll be to busy learning how to play with the ball.

  78. The pattern I notice here from so many comments – is the simplicity of what so often works best – whatever the item, it’s the imagination and the engagement of the child that is the necessary ingredient….(batteries not included.)

    We live in strange times – if they can commodify the air we breathe, they’ll do it…all for fun and profit.
    So the fact that they wish to commodify a child’s imagination doesn’t surprise me at all.
    That is also probably nothing new to discover; I’m sure it’s been in the works for a long time – but the degree to which they can squelch childhood with it now, is rather alarming.

    Sad thing – to think that our most adept young escapees are po’ kids….
    after all, it costs. No free lunch, there.

    Rather laughable, too – the proliferation of stuff aimed right smack at the heart of all that raging inferno out there, of milquetoasted insecure decrepitude – that if we do NOT aquire all this bloody stuff, our kids are somehow, left behind? to starve in the gutter – or even worse – to become somehow, in some way, something LESS than whatever it was they would have normally, naturally, and sanely become? um?
    hoo!

  79. Wow. Have these people not seen how intently and seriously a baby or small child will “play” with an object? Little kid play is essential. As has been said, lots of extras are unnecessary. A kid will play with anything if he can make mental attachment. Most of what’s happening is mental–the particular toy doesn’t have too much effect. Have these toymakers never studied chikdren’s play?

    That being said, most of the toys are pretty darn cool without being touted as educational. Heck, educational toys rock. Then again, toys are by development definition educational.

    As for reading devices, I think they have their time and place. They can build confidence in struggling readers and theyre “cool” enough to attract those readers.

    DVDs? No way. I’m vehemently against tv under a certain age.

  80. @ JP Merzetti: In short…the commercial companies target the fearful and the vain. Next to love, two of the most motivating emotions in humans. And it’s worked for decades. Just go to show all the cattle/monkeys/lemurs among us. lol These companies don’t actually need to study children, they just need to know the parents. After all it’s the parents that decide what to get their children…or what not to get them.

  81. “I think we need to distinguish between pain and work. I’m not a believer in “no pain, no gain.” If an activity is painful, I figure I’m probably approaching it wrong. On the other hand, if it doesn’t require hard work, I figure I’m not gaining much.”

    That’s probably not a bad operating principle, but I wouldn’t make it absolute. Some kids might just take a loathing to some particular aspect of education that defies efforts to make it anything other than torture for them — usually as a result of their attitudes more than the nature of the task.

    So I suppose instead of “no pain, no gain” I should have just stuck with saying that the pursuit of painlessness is self-defeating. Avoiding pain where possible = good, making it the primary goal is probably going to wind up short-changing a reluctant kid in the long run.,

  82. Pentamom, with that I can completely agree!

  83. In my opinion, there’s a balance us parents need to strike between the new-fangled toys and traditional. We travel a lot and the Leapster Tag readers we bought our kids have been an invaluable tool for keeping them entertained and saving our sanity. On the other hand, a sketch pad and set of markers usually works, too. I don’t think having fancy toys hurts kids as long as you make sure to include the basics – board games, balls, etc. — along with it. And while I do think that “exercise bike” is ridiculous, I played with Fisher-Price toys as a kid for years. My Mom saved all of our Fisher-Price toys and they are some of my kid’s favorites nearly 30 years later.

  84. I heard that piece on NPR about the apps that the writer was having his preschool child read.

    As a home schooling mom who has taught my three kids to read, I have some concerns if the parent wants to use these to teach their child to read. With my kids, who range from early readers to one having issues, the less side stuff going on the better that they were able to focus on what they actually were supposed to be doing.

    That said, a Leapster was what got my son with muscle and vision issues to attempt to write. I wouldn’t let him use it unless he held the stylus correctly. It did help more than having him write with paper and pencil because he didn’t want to do that.

    The other thought I had about the NPR piece is that the father was reading at bedtime, when the object is to settle the child down so that he/she can fall to sleep. The laying back and listening is more conducive to that than the active stuff. So me, I would still do traditional stories at bed time, and save the apps for times that were a bit more active.

  85. [...] Lenore Skenazy of Free Range Kids discusses the idiocy of modern toy marketing. [...]

  86. Fellow homeschooling mom here. I have found that educational electronic toys that teach basic reading and math skills really do help my kids. They can explore these concepts at their own pace. However, parents don’t have to shell out extra for Leapsters if they have Internet access; Starfall.com’s free games do much the same thing and their subscription-only content is a nice extra. In fact, Starfall taught my oldest child to read, even though we were just looking for something for her to mess around with during a windy, sub-zero winter when she could not get outside. The Leapsters were presents from relatives later on.

    Educational toys for younger ages are not nearly as useful. My husband and I were both the babies of large families, so when we started having babies, we were snowed under with presents. The ring-stacking, shape-sorting, etc., toys were always being pulled apart and used for other things. In the beginning it was Where Does the Garbage Go? and we inadvertently threw away many, many little educational pieces because the kids had stuffed them into the enticing swing-lid can behind our backs. Then it was elaborate games of pretend. The puzzles that made realistic animal noises when successfully assembled were too scary and the batteries had to be removed. The Demon Dog from Hell asked us to squeeze its paw at 2:30 in the fricking morning one too many times and went to the thrift store to creep out somebody else’s parents. Some of the toys that play varying tunes if manipulated have lasted; the others are long gone.

  87. I kind of think this misses the point.

    The problem is that many “toys” nowadays are not actually toys, but just fuzzy entertainment boxes. They have so much entertainment value that it is hard to put them to new uses and use them imaginatively. If you take a walk through a Toys-R-Us in a poor area, you will see what I mean. It’s not that they aren’t educational–they aren’t even that fun, because once the child gets done with the performance, the fun is over. Sure, some of them can be used imaginatively off-purpose, but some are pretty boring.

    However, put these flashing lights next to a box of wood, and small children will go to the flashing lights each time. (Grandma will also choose the flashing lights nine times out of ten.) It’s evolutionary biology. They are more novel, on the surface, and require less input from the child–almost none, in fact–for a stimulating output.

    Therefore, in order to market themselves, classic toy makers, of yo-yos, marble tracks, blocks, etc. have had to emphasize their competitive advantage, which truly is their capacity to be used in the kind of creative play that prepares children for life.

    I seriously doubt all of *you* have houses full of beeping, flashing, singing dolls or action figures that fit in pre-narrative scripts, or already-put-together train tracks, or anything like that. No. You may have hand-me-downs, and you may have bought things because you liked them as children. However, I don’t think it’s our place to look down on that parent that may be thinking, “I don’t know quite what is wrong with this aisle at Toys-R-Us… the toys look irritating, but it’s not only that… OH. Yeah. It’s that they do not require my child to do anything other than push a button. They’re not really things to play with as things to watch. Aha. I knew there was something wrong. Look, here. This says it develops skill X. Baby does something. I’ll take it.”

    Is that really so awful?

    I just think this whole conversation is being had by people who perhaps have never had to go toy shopping in Wal-Mart. I suppose you are all higher class than me, LOL! But I *have* been to Wal-Mart (and Target) and I know what it’s like to look for toys, you can’t quite remember which ones, that actually require the use of some basic skills to use. So I can appreciate this sales tactic.

    My kids play to play, because that is how kids grow and explore their worlds and–dare I say it–learn. They like learning. I don’t have to facilitate it, most of the time. But as their parent, when I choose the ONE birthday present they are getting this year, I certainly will get them something with multiple uses that requires creative input, over, oh, I don’t know. A singing Elmo. No Elmo issues, just… ugh.

  88. Jesus Christ that was long. Sorry. I wrote half of it earlier.

    Tl;dr: The sales tack is because of the many toys that are really entertainment blocks rather than playthings. So this is to distinguish them by selling their competitive advantage, which is that they are *also* good for play and thus, learning. I think Lenore and many posters have had the good fortune never to have shopped in places where most of the “toys” are mind-numbing, if not stupefying, at best.

  89. I first noticed this when we were on vacation in the US, we went to buy a jumper for LO who was 6 months at the time. It was his favorite thing in Sweden but we didn’t want to fly with it.

    The jumper we bought in the States was going to teach him about music, colors, shapes, etc. He was 6 MONTHS OLD and he outgrew it at 7 months! All he wanted to do was jump.

    Ever since then DH and I joke around and try to come up with good marketing material about all of the things LO learns from his favorite toys which over time have included: a gift bag (just the empty bag), a pair of socks, a large stack of magazines, a used but empty former bucket of yougurt etc. It’s a ton of fun.

    Another good laugh: take a look at amazon.com where parents can rate the educational value of every toy they buy. A lot of people take this very seriously. I could not believe it.

    Frankly I think kids learn from each and every thing they do. And I am very grateful if LO can learn from basic playing for as long as possible.

  90. If you don’t star the educational value on Amazon, it will count it as “zero stars”. Most people put five or four no matter what, because to do otherwise messes with the rating system.

    Please don’t tell me you are “that person” on Amazon that rates the two toys you bought there as “zero stars” as if somehow, this will positively affect the whole world’s perception of the value of play. It won’t. It just punishes the seller / producer. That is all.

  91. No, I actually don’t rate them at all, since I don’t live in the US I don’t order toys from there, don’t worry, your rating is safe from me….

  92. I’m so late to this party, probably no one is reading anymore, but I was struck by what pentamom said about her sons playing with army men, even though there is a wide age difference between them. What a great thing for them to have something they can share like that.

  93. As a wannabe toy maker and toy collector, I have a slightly different perspective.

    Toys can’t simply be toys nowadays. Toys have to be positive role models for kids. Toys will be blamed for what is wrong with kids today. Toys have to be vetted and Oked by the “Mommy bloggers”. Toys have to be trusted. Toys have to safe. Toys are tools of so-called dangerous stangers. Toys will turn daughters in to sluts. Toys are one more thing of this huge list that parents must fear.

    The toys themselves get lost in the hoopla of fear that parents are not doing enough to protect their children from the harmful influences of so-called bad toys. I tend to read educational as code that this toy is not one of those bad toys.

    While I appreciate classic toys, it is really hard to get a new toy on the market because it will be attacked in all directions. Toy makers are increasingly becoming more safe and dull, sticking with the tried and true, and using marketing that they think parents want to hear. Toy makers have to fear parental backlash.

  94. As a wannabe toy maker, I have another perspective on this.

    It is not enough for a toy to simply be a toy. A toy has to be a postive role model. A toy has to be safe. A toy needs to be vetted by the mommy bloggers. A toy could turn my child into a violent criminal. A toy could turn my daugther into a slut. A toy could be a waste if time. A toy could a distraction. A toy could be the tool of a dangerous stranger. A toy could deflate the bubble that surrounds my child keeping my child safe.

    It makes it nearly impossible to get new toys onto the market. While I have deep appreciation for the classic toys, many times parents choose classic toys because they trust them and they are sticking to the tried and true. Toy innovation suffers.

    I see the marketing of educational as code for this toy is not one of those bad toys that will be a bad influence on your child or could harm your child. This toy can be trusted because it is educational so you don’t have to fear that you as a parent are not doing everything that you can to protect your child.

    As someone who loves toys as toys, it frustrating that toys get lost in the hoopla of parental fears. So sad.

  95. A very interesting read. I heard you on the radio and it piqued my interest. I’m a big toy fan, I guess I never grew out of ‘em.

    If I was going into the toy industry today, I simply wouldn’t. Or I’d just sell my idea to Mattel or Hasbro, take the money, and run. So many regulations and laws you have to adhere to, which exist for many good reasons. Plus you have to deal with factories in China and just hope they don’t put lead in the plastic that some two-year-old is going to have in his or her mouth.

    I think that a lot of parents are so consumed with wanting their kids to grow up and get into Harvard or Yale they forget to let them be kids. Whats wrong with just playing with a ball or some blocks? Well, that is when they have time in between soccer, scouts, karate, piano lessons, and tutoring. Growing up one of my favorite things to play with was a set of blocks my grandfather had made. It was a hand-me-down set, but they were so much fun. One day they’d be a fort for my action figures, another day a road for my Hotwheels or I’d build robots or something out of the shapes. I doubt when my grandfather was making those blocks he was thinking about how they’d develop my fine motor skills or hand-eye-coordination. They were blocks to play with.

    One bit of news that came out of Toy Fair ’11 was in regards to Mr. Potato Head (source: http://healthland.time.com/2011/02/24/mr-potato-head-gets-off-the-couch-meet-hasbros-skinnier-spud/) Apparently he’s quit being a couch potato, has put down the bag of Lay’s and has shed a few pounds. This fall Mr. Potato Head will be sporting a slimmer, trimmer new body as well as for the first time ever: legs. I’m all for updating Mr. Potato Head’s look, afterall he has sported the same spud for nearly thirty years. That said, doing it under the guise of using him as a means to promote a healthy lifestyle and choices is absolutely preposterous. First of all, he is Mr. Potato HEAD; his face IS his body. Second, why do toys need to Is a leaner & meaner Mr. Tuber Face really going to help combat childhood obesity? I say NO.

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