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?


3 Responses to “Learning is Fun, or Why I Hate Corporate Toys”

  1. STL Mom says:

    I’m with you on these last two posts. There are so many horrible “toys” out there that don’t even look fun to me, much less educational.
    With Christmas around the corner, I am trying not to let my kids (ages 3 and 6) see any TV commercials. We Tivo the shows they like, and I try to leap to the remote at the closing credits, before the ads start. Of course, most kids’ shows are full-length commercials for the products with those characters plastered on them. And don’t get me started on Chuck E. Cheese’s “sponsoring” of public television shows (so much for no commercials on public TV!)
    I am lucky to live in a city that still has a few toy stores that sell toys and games that are simple and classic. I also get a lot of catalogs: Museum Tour, Leaps & Bounds, Imagine the Challenge, Young Explorers, Magic Cabin, Highlights, and Back to Basics Toys. Child of the World sells Montessori equipment – kids can actually get pretty excited about a kid-sized but functional mop and pail — parents just have to remember not to expect the floor to actually be cleaner after the kids work on it.
    I am lucky that my six-year-old daughter would rather get some kind of building kit that a Bratz doll. But I am also trying to put less focus on toys and more on other items – books, arts & crafts supplies, science or cooking kits – and provide more experiences. I would rather spend money for her to take an art class, or even go to a movie, than buy more toys to clutter up the basement and her room. I think this is less because there aren’t good toys out there than because kids’ needs change as they get older. Of course, I am still in the golden years when my daughter asks for books on Ancient Egypt, not an Ipod, a Play Station, or a cell phone!

    November 20th, 2006 at 10:42 am

  2. jd says:

    While not all of their toys are necessarily “play and learn”, I’ve always been drawn towards the type of toys HearthSong carries. At the very least, they seem like they’d inspire more creative play and use of kids’ imagination than all the talking, automated, cheap commercial junk out there. http://www.hearthsong.com

    November 28th, 2006 at 10:48 am

  3. Educational Learning Toys says:

    I was looking for an occupational therapy toy for my son and my OT recommended the CLICS learning toy, Educational toys to help children with learning disabilities preschool kids age 3 and up. My kid plays with it every waking hour of the day because it is easy to construct and with just a few pieces you can make a huge construction.

    December 14th, 2006 at 7:33 am

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