Gifted toys from... uncles
Yesterday, a Twitter friend was kvetching about the Christmas gift given by her brother to her young boys: a Leapster video game "made and marketed by Satan's helpers." I could relate, as my brothers-in-law (both sides of the family) have made themselves famous in the house for their extremely loud, blinking-lights, electronic gifts, often given with the best of intentions: they're marketed as "educational" toys, after all. There was the Barney monstrosity with the alphabet buttons and the voice I couldn't even recognize, except that it was enough to drive me out of my head. There was the toy I like to think of as "baby's first TV," a little scrolling translucent screen with 80s-style plastic doodads that prompted different "soundtracks," targeted at one-year-olds (really, toy companies?). There was the Transformers helmet found at the bins that changed everyone's voice into an Autobot's voice, loudly (not educational, but surely delightful for boys).
This year, it's the Nerf guns, everyone's favorite toy, right? I watch my two-year-old walk upstairs with a gun on his shoulder, looking for all the world like Matt Damon's character in a movie with lots and lots of shooting. Except littler, and barefoot.
I've slowly banished most of the loud toys from the house, but sometimes you just have to let a kid play with the dearly beloved terror. And there is no shortage of over-priced, enormous, loud toys, the manufacture of which must have the carbon footprint of a cross-country drive in an SUV, the marketing of which is surely delight at "spending time together" as you watch your child "learn" by pushing buttons and listening to the resulting cacaphony. Toy companies make a lot of money from aunts, uncles, and a goodly portion of parents who have bought the marketing pitch hook, line and C batteries. I think the best approach is education: not of our kids, but of other adults out there who are paying for the stuff in the first place. So tell me: how can we spread the word that the best education is a puzzle, a book, a crayon, a pebble, a ball, a stick (even if it's in the shape of a gun) and some quiet(ish) face time with your son, daughter, niece, nephew, granddaughter, godson? The sound of the toy companies' marketing is deafening.