“Educational” Toys

“Educational” Toys

Instead of composing my post about toys, I continue to blog about other people’s ideas. Here, from the archives, are two good stories that I meant to post long ago, stuck into in a file, and forgot about.

First, via papa familias, comes this story about the effectiveness, or lack thereof, of leap frog and other electronic “educational” toys:

But two recent studies suggest that the oft-touted educational benefits of such toys are illusory, and child development experts caution that kiddie electronics, even those bought purely for fun, can have negative side effects such as inhibiting creativity and promoting short attention spans.


Such warnings apply to other electronic toys as well, which experts worry discourage the kind of unstructured play that is crucial to children’s cognitive development and undermine the formation of basic motor skills. “A lot of these toys direct the play activity of our children by talking to them, singing to them, asking them to press buttons and levers,” notes Kathy Hirsch-Pasek, co-director of the Temple University Infant Lab, in a recent research summary. “I look for a toy that doesn’t command the child, but lets the child command it.”

I’m no Luddite, obviously, but I just plain don’t like the talking books for kids from Leap Frog (and others), or all the other talking toys which supposedly promote reading. If I want my child to learn to read, I’ll sit down and read a book (or two or six) to her every day. Mind you, I’m not saying parents who use these kinds of toys occasionally are bad or neglectful parents; but I fail to see the point. (And if the studies are right and these toys do promote shorter attention spans, then thoughtful parents might want to at least reconsider their use.)

I simply don’t like toys that chatter and make noise. I’m the kind of person who rarely turns on the stereo, even though I like music. I like quiet more. We have to make a conscious effort to occasionally put on classical music for Isabella to enjoy.

When we do get such toys, I remove the batteries; but I prefer not to have them at all. Right now Bella doesn’t know when we remove the batteries, but later it might become a battle. And toys whose only purpose is to chatter at baby, ugh. I’ll let baby discover how to make her own noise by shaking a rattle or banging a spoon. Let her bang on piano keys or pound a drum or shake a bell. But
I won’t give her pianos that play on their own, drums that command her to bang on them or all the other nonsense. How is she going to learn, to explore, if the toys do all the work for her? She’s just on the way to becoming another passive consumer of entertainment.

In a related post, Jen at Suburban CEO shares her thoughts on baby Einstein and other educational toy trends:

Of course people have always wanted their kids to be intelligent, but good manners, religious values, etc. were equally if not more highly prized. But these days it seems to be the sole fixation of parents that their child be smart: every toy must be educational; hot brands have names like Baby Einstein, Baby Genius, Little Smarties, Little Laureate, etc.; every toy that plays music must have some Mozart in there on the off chance it increases kids’ IQ’s by a quarter point; parents of teenagers act like low SAT scores are punishable by death. I could go on.

This has been one of my biggest surprises upon entering the world of parenthood. Other parents are unbelievably competitive about their kids’ intelligence. I just can’t hang. When I was a more inexperienced mother I naively told a funny story at a playgroup about some clever thing my son had said. Rather than the amused chuckles I expected, the response I got was more like, “OH YEAH? MY SON DERIVED DE BROGLIE’S EQUATION WITH A CRAYON WHILE EATING THE ORGANIC BROCCOLI SOUFFLE I MADE HIM FOR LUNCH!”

I’d add to her list the odd trend I’ve noticed for letters and numbers to be on all sorts of toys for infants under a year old. They were on the Exersaucer, for example, a toy that kids outgrow long before they’re ready for shape recognition, and I’ve seen them on other toys as well. Is it a marketing gimmick, designed to make parents think the toys have some sort of educational value?


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