Go down any toy aisle in Toys R Us or Target, and you will be amazed at how many toys are “educational.” Teach your baby to read! Teaches object permanence! Fine motor skills! Cause and effect! These labels beckon to well-meaning parents as if to say, “Buy me, or you are dooming your child to a lifetime of mediocrity.”
The vast majority of these educational toys need batteries (and play loud, obnoxious music, but that’s a separate complaint). All the child needs to do is push a button, and viola! Instant learning. If you are training your kid to be one of the Jetsons, that’s fine.
As someone who has been in the education biz for almost 20 years, this bugs me. A lot.
Marketing Is Sketchy
Of course a toy company is in the business to sell. I have no beef with that. What I do have issues with are the lengths a campaign will go to convince you that the toy will make your kid a genius. There seems to be no limit to the fancy labels they’ll slap on a box.
To demystify a few:
Object permanence — children learn that an object still exists even if it is no longer visible. You know what else teaches object permanence? For free? Peek-a-boo.
Fine motor skills — these are the dexterous skills that are more nuanced than walking or crawling. How can your child learn strong fine motor skills? Give him a crayon and a piece of paper. Or some blocks.
Reading readiness — skills for reading readiness include book orientation, knowledge that text holds meaning, and that print should be read left to right. This does not require Baby Einstein. Put your child in your lap and read to her. Ask her what she thinks the story will be about based on the pictures on the cover. Let her hold the book and turn the pages. Ask her to predict what will happen next in the story. That’s what makes a child ready to read. Know who did pretty well without Baby Einstein? Albert Einstein.
The Intelligent Caveman
Smart people have been around for thousands of years. These smart people were once smart children, and they got that way without baby flash cards on an iPad. There’s nothing you can teach your child with a battery-operated doodad that you can’t also teach with basic, old-fashioned toys.
The next time you’re in the toy aisle, remember that Legos and stacking rings are just as awesome as Tickle Me Elmo. Okay–maybe not as awesome, but just as educational. Einstein would approve.