Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Reclaiming REAL Play: Toys

So, I read an article on my FB home page from the Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood that really got me worked up about the toy industry these days.  And, by the way, it doesn't take much to get me worked up about the subject of toys.  It's like we're going from bad to worse in the blink of an eye!

When I first started noticing a major shift in the kinds of toys that are being marketed to children these days I was at Target doing some shopping.  Although this was before the days of Froggy Boots, I was still strolling down the toys isles.  And, what was I looking for, you may ask?  Well, I was looking for some basic wooden blocks as a gift for someone -- I don't remember who.  I thought they would be easy to find.  I mean, every kid owns a set of wooden blocks, right?

As I walked up and down the isles over and over again, I was thinking, "you've got to be kidding me, right!?"  There was not one set of wooden blocks anywhere on the toy isle shelves!  I kept thinking I must have missed them somewhere.  But, to my dismay, every time I walked up and down the isles, no wooden blocks appeared!

Since that day several years ago Target has begun to carry a small selection of wooden blocks and toys as well as some of the old classic toys that I grew up with.  However, these types of toys are the minority.  Most of the toys you will find at Target make obnoxious noises, flash bright lights,  talk, walk, or dance on their own, and even poop and pee on their own.  I know, I know, those same pooping and peeing dolls existed when I was growing up to -- and I even had one!  But, that's not the point.

The point is that these types of toys that do everything FOR the child are now the majority instead of the minority.  Anything (well, almost anything) in moderation can be OK.  But, anything in excess can eventually become a major problem.  Take drinking alcohol, for example.  In moderation, it's OK.  But, in excess, it can cause all kinds of major problems for the consumer as well as those around him.

Toys are no different.  An excess of toys that do things FOR the child can really stifle creativity.  Let's take the example of baby dolls.  If a baby doll talks by itself, saying certain pre-programed phrases or sentences, then the child is limited by what the doll is programed to say.  You may argue that the child may still pretend the doll is saying other things, but I just don't think that happens as easily when the doll is already spurting out its own programmed phrases.

Now, let's say that the child who owns the talking doll also owns a play kitchen that makes sizzling sounds and lights up when you place a pot on the stove,  makes beeping sounds when pressing the buttons on the microwave, and even has an attached telephone that talks to the child when she picks it up.  This same child also has toy animals that make animal sounds when you press a button and a remote control car that makes engine noises, honks and talks.

Where is the imagination in any of these toys?  There isn't.  What was once a toy designed to encourage imagination and creativity is now stifling the very thing it was originally designed to do by taking the imagination away from the child and placing it in the hands of the toy itself.

In my many years of being a preschool teacher I have even noticed a difference in the kids I teach that seems to be directly related to the types of toys they are playing with.  I now have kids that, no matter what I am showing them, ask me, "What does it do?"  My response is always the same, "It doesn't DO anything." and then I show the child what he/she can do WITH the toy.  **I do not have any electronic toys in my classroom and probably never will.**

This is a somewhat new phenomenon for me.  Several years ago, I don't remember kids asking me questions like that.  I remember questions like, "What do you do WITH it?" not, "What does it DO?"

So, you might be asking what was the article that got you so worked up about toys?  Here's the link:

The Real Trouble With Breastmilk Baby

And please do not think that I have anything against breastfeeding!  I am a 100% supporter of breastfeeding.  I breastfed Froggy Boots until she weaned herself at 11 months.  And, I always promote breastfeeding to any mom-to-be.  I would love nothing more than to see a child pretending to breastfeed a baby doll -- as long as the doll does not make sucking noises while sucking on a pretend nipple attached to something that looks like a bra.

If you read the last paragraph and don't know what I am talking about, then you need to click on the link above and read the article.

So, let's encourage toy manufacturers to bring back REAL toys -- toys that encourage open-ended, creative, or educational play without all the "bells and whistles," so to speak -- by purchasing these types of toys for our kids instead of the ones that stifle their creativity.  Let's bring back the REAL play of childhood for our kids!

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