Thursday, December 13, 2007

Go Retro

There is an article in science daily about toys. And just in time for the holiday season.

“Old-fashioned retro toys, such as red rubber balls,
simple building blocks, clay and crayons, that don’t cost so much and are
usually hidden in the back shelves are usually much healthier for children than
the electronic educational toys that have fancier boxes and cost $89.99,” says
Temple University developmental psychologist Kathy

The basic purpose of toys is to fuel imagination. They are accessories to a child’s play, not an end in themselves. I cannot understand the fascination with the fancy electronic toys. I have seen a few and they seem to be so limited in what they can do. Press this button and a light will glow, pull this lever and a song will play. What then? The child will inevitably get bored.

Chip has a lot more toys than what I grew up with. Most of them are gifts. He has a ball that plays songs or speaks the phonetic equivalent of an alphabet. It lies in our crawlspace. He has an electronic jackhammer, two ride-on trucks, a rocking horse, a trike, roller skates, countless soft toys, wooden blocks, 2 sets of plastic blocks (one is stored away), two basket ball hoops (one outdoor, one indoor stored away), a dozen cars and trucks, one even has a remote control, half a dozen puzzles, a few balls in various colors and textures, a small magnetic slate and some random junkie assortment including a dead xbox controller, decimated potato head, a plastic maraca, wooden coasters, beads, stickers and a small notebook. Out of the list, I have bought him a blue plastic ball, a few soft toys and some puzzles and blocks. I have also bought him the beads and the stickers and the notebook.

The electronic toys in our home follow a rule. Once the original batteries die out, they are not replaced. Chip eventually finds another way to play with the toys, which means those toys were more than electronic gimmicky to begin with. The trucks are a good example of this. Chip whined when the batteries first died, but soon figured out that he could stack more cars on the truck and make it a car-carrier. Or put walnuts into it and pretend it was a dump truck (he got a swat and then a timeout for doing this, this probably deserves a post of its own). The remote controller for the radio-controlled car soon became a phone into which his imaginary friend (Chiu the sparrow) was asked to bring goodies for all (milk and three blue lollipops for Chip, green jelly beans for Ajji, mac and cheese for Aie and water for Baba). The dead xbox controller became a camera to capture every kodak moment or a pair of headphones while he mowed the lawn with his truck. The coasters became plates for serving the delectable food he cooked for us using an empty plastic chopper (sans blade), an old pot and some spoons. This is play where imagination is at work. He can play forever with his ball or spend considerable time doing his puzzles. He draws pictures of his grandfather and his grandmother and his father and me in scribbled detail on the little magnetic slate.

Yet the fancy electronic games win the battle. It is guilt? Is it fear? As parents, perhaps the fear overrules. Like Pascal’s wager, one errs on this side. And as doting aunts and uncles and family friends, I am convinced the guilt overrules. After all, how can one give a $1 plastic ball to a favorite nephew on his birthday? Throw some electronic gadgetry in it and viola it becomes a respectable gift at $19.99. And I am not holier-than-thou and all pretentious. I have been guilty of the same. But I think I am going to change that. If I ever have to gift a toy, it going to be real, toy. A retro toy. If it is cheap, so be it. I can put the rest of the money in that child’s college fund or something. But, here comes the clincher, what if the child thinks it is too boring? What then?


choxbox said...

Gift books - you can nver go wrong there!

noon said...

Oh man I am guilty of this too. Is it really that bad?! He does enjoy his music toys as much as he does his own pots and dabbas kind of made up toys. He will make a chop stick or a straw into a phone and chat on it or turn his pen into a screw driver and put screws into the open slots in our book shelf...his drawing note is full of spirals and scribbles from him -but he also enjoys his alphabet pal toy and listening to the songs from it...I don't let him watch any TV but to not even allow this - don't know if I can do that!

Fuzzylogic said...

Tagged..and will be back to comment on the post:)

Orchid said...

the story of our lives indeed!....with the gifting I have switched to books or better even a gift card but when it comes to Li'l A..I resist and resist and resist and then every 3rd or 4th month, I give in miserably and just you gets will soon find yourself moving on to train track sets, race tracks and the like....maybe we should just buy some stocks of duracell or eveready???

Anitha(Nikki's mom) said...

Sometime back I was reading a similar article, I decided then that I am not going to buy something as a gift looking only at the price range and the age range. planning is underway for Nikki's first bday party. "No gifts from guests" and "books for the goody bag gifts" was the first thing I decided. Nikki already has so many toys, I don't want 15+ toys in the name of gifts to fill the home. It is not 15+ toys that gets me, 95% of them will be electronic stuff that I may want to return and buy something else.

DotMom said...

choxbox: yes.. but there aren't a lot of parents out there that have the time to read to kids (under 5 set)

noon: nonono noon.. you misunderstood me. as long as their imagination is fulled. as the article says, kids should command toys not the other way around..that's all :)

fuzzy: dang. that's a hard tag for me.

orchid: i gift books to those kids whose parents i know take an active interst in reading.. to the rest... i have switched to clothes.

anitha: a child can be happy with so little.. seriosuly.. sometimes I feel we gift for the parents not the child.. in the fear what they might think. This year while giving a gift to dear friend's 6 yr old, I found some stick games and like for $2.00 on sale. I felt bad give him a $5 gift, but he loves plaing with them.

Kodi's Mom said...

one of my fav topics ever! the scenario is the same here, all the electronic stuff came as gifts and some he does enjoy, like the firetruck which has lights - but even w/o the lights, he'd enjoy it. the only press and play things we've bought are a race track and books that you press the buttons on.

and agree with choxbox, regular books are the best. parents dont need to always read to the very young children, some books double as stacking objects, some are full of texture - they are toys by themselves, reading them would just be a bonus!

DotMom said...

kodi's mom: exactly my point. the tor should offer more than electronic gimmickry. about books, yes, they can have textures and patterns, but when they grow up, they definately want more and many times parents simply can't spend the 15 mins it takes to read to a child or just look at pics together.