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‘Boring’ kid toys make best gifts




Lenore Skenazy

Lenore Skenazy

It’s baby’s first Christmas, but what to buy? How about the Vinci — described on its website as “a new category of touch screenbased early learning systems”? In other words: an iPad for the diaper crowd.

Basically, Vinci is an Android tablet with a hard-to-break screen and four easy-to-grip plastic handles. Cost? Just $479, which, Susan Linn points out, “is a small price to pay for the tranquility that comes when your infant is virtually lobotomized.”

Linn is a co-founder of Campaign for a Commercial- Free Childhood, the group that successfully sued Baby Einstein into removing any “educational” claims from its marketing materials and returning the money of any parents who thought its videos would actually teach their kids something. Something other than how to sit and watch videos, that is.

So it’s no big surprise that Linn’s group declared the Vinci the winner of this year’s TOADY Award; “TOADY” stands for “Toys Oppressive And Destructive to Young Children.” It beat out the new Coca-Cola 125th Anniversary Collectors’ Edition Monopoly (which is like playing an ad for four hours). And it just squeezed past the I Am T-Pain Microphone, a toy that transforms any moppet’s voice into the Auto-Tuned awesomeness of the guy who croons, “ Take off your m——- f—- ing shirt.” (Maybe it’s a lullaby.)

Not to be too much of a hypocrite, I should point out that my own boys, now 13 and 15, spend their fair share of time glued to a screen and are fond of sugary soft drinks. One of them can sing along with most of the T-Pain oeuvre (and Pitbull’s, too). But I still believe Linn has a point when she says that there is more to childhood than screen time and commercials and that both of these should be limited when kids are young.

“There is no evidence that any kind of screen time is beneficial for babies,” says Linn, who is also a psychologist at Harvard Medical School. “And what it does is take babies away from what we know is good for them and their brain development, which is interacting with people and hands-on creative play.”

That’s why even if the Vinci taught kids “Itsy Bitsy Spider” in pitch-perfect Mandarin, it still wouldn’t be as good for a kid as banging on a pot with a spoon or sifting sand in the sandbox. Children learn by manipulating the world (and their grandparents, of course!). Folks worried that their little ones aren’t getting enough “education” by just tumbling around or dragging a pull toy don’t realize that that is education. Often, baby education looks like play.

And in fact, that’s what a lot of education looks like, when kids are in grammar school and even older. Play is the way kids learn to be creative (they come up with something to do) and compromise (will the group play soccer or basketball?) and self-control (when you lose and have to go to the sidelines, you literally learn to play by the rules).

So what makes a great holiday gift? Any item that is “10 percent toy and 90 percent kid,” Linn says. For instance, a plain old doll is a great gift because a child has to do the talking for it — and make it walk and pretend it is an astronaut or acrobat or accountant. (Hey, a girl can dream, can’t she?)

But a Tickle Me Elmo — that’s 90 percent toy. A kid presses the button and Elmo laughs and laughs. Who’s having all the fun? All the kid gets to do is press a button!

There’s plenty of time for that particular activity in the years to come. That’s why children don’t need toys that do things; they need toys that are downright dull until you add the kid or kids. Then the fun begins. (And the education, too. But you don’t have to mention it.) ©2011 Creators


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