Monday, November 20th, 2006
Learning is Fun, or Why I Hate Corporate Toys
Look at baby toys in any toy store. Every box touts the skills your child will learn from using each toy. Every product is geared toward teaching a skill, or at least makes the claim.
Once your kid turns 4- or 5-years-old, we lose the concept of toys providing educational value. Sure, every toy technically has some value, but once a child has played with a Spider-Man action figure, creating scenes in his mind for Spider-Man to act in, you’re not adding much to his experience to then give him a Batman action figure. You are reinforcing whatever meager skills your child has already acquired and not adding anything new.
Learning becomes something experienced at school, and home is for play. Learning and play are no longer the same thing.
As kids get older, the toys become TV and movie characters. The toys are marketing devices. That wasn’t always the case. Toy makers made toys and marketers figured out how to sell them. These days the question is framed as, "We have a character from TV/Film, what are we going to put his/her fact on?" Taken a step further, say in the music realm, entire boy/girl bands are assembled, hand-picked for their marketability.
I’m probably a little more touchy on this subject because my daughter has gone two years without TV. Aside from learning Thomas’ and Elmo’s names, she demonstrates no natural attraction or affinity for toys plastered with their faces. It’s interesting to let her loose in a toy store and watch her be drawn toward toys based purely on their merits.
There are exceptions to the toys-designed-by-marketers trend. A savvy parent browsing the right web sites or who is on the right catalog mailing lists probably knows of a wealth of educationally fun toys that are leaps and bounds better than most toys found in a chain store. Do you know one?