Toys That Teach (and Reach)

Among the catalogs that clog mailboxes during the holiday season is one intended for young explorers who, we are led to believe, will “imagine, create, explore, play!” if given the creative educational products described in its 60 colorful pages. However, instead of solving gift-giving problems, many of the products raise disturbing questions.

The placid raptor portrayed on the front of a green hoodie is shown turning ferocious when the wearer wraps his or her hands around the opposite shoulder, exposing the ravenous jaws of the beast silkscreened on the arms of the garment. Isn’t it likely that the jaws of any child who frequently engages in this activity will be open just as wide in terror when the orthopedic surgeon explains the pain that will accompany procedures necessary to repair bilateral subluxations?

In theory toddlers at home or in the car should get their feet dancing when they press the buttons on Baby’s First Musical Player to hear 24 different melodies. But what if a two-year-old Bobby pushes the KC button, takes off his footwear, and tells his mom he wants to shake his bootie?

Children who receive the learn-to-dress doll are supposed to transfer the skills of buttoning shirts and dresses and of tying shoes from their 15-inch friend to themselves. But could such training lead to exasperated tykes who come downstairs as very cross dressers in more ways than one?

The girl who receives the Root-Vue Farm which allows her to see the development of carrots, onions, and radishes is pictured as saying, “I can see my garden grow!” Where is the real-life four-year-old who wonders “Where are the chocolate seeds so I can grow my own candy bars?”

Susie might also be given the adorable furry hamster that “makes whatever kids say sound funny” by talking back. Isn’t she likely to tell her fuzzy friend “Laugh this off. Eat these crummy vegetables from my rotten farm”?

Girls seven or older are encouraged to indulge themselves in a Spa Day kit so they can make bath bombs, face and hair masks, body scrubs, and lip balms. Won’t that lead to mothers writing suspicious excuse notes to teachers like “Amy was absent yesterday because she was getting a manicure for a persistent hangnail and a fairy dust treatment on her dimples”?

The boy shown adjusting telescoping gold clubs is pleased enough to exclaim “I can make it just my size!” Where is the Links Lexicon that, as his level of frustration with the game grows along with his body, will allow him to expand his inventory of exasperated expressions to graduate from “Gee Whiz!” to vows of flinging nine irons into black holes and other orifices?

The doorbell answering machine shaped like a flower is to let busy girls know when visitors stopped by their bedroom door. Just what would keep a child from being able to respond to the “ding dong” sound? “I can’t come to the door right now. I’m wiping the slobber off my mouth”?

The 7 Habits of Happy Kids game teaches “the timeless tenets of personal happiness” as players verbalize their feelings. But what if the most frequently-heard comment is “How come I always feel depressed when I lose at this lousy game”?

A game that requires more guts than brains is You Gotta Be Kidding which offers repugnant choices such as “Would you rather be covered in itchy scabs or have popcorn shells stuck in-between every tooth?”  Isn’t it quite possible the youngster presented with this puerile diversion would say, “You might as well have given me a box filled with spiders and snakes”?

Likewise question the sagacity of a father who presents his child with Aliens Love Underpants, the story of extraterrestrials bent on stealing the undies of earthlings. Isn’t that parent still in the pangs of arrested development left over from when he served as the ringleader of panty raids in college?

Another dubious gift suggestion is scented pencils in “kid-friendly” aromas of bubble gum, cherry, grape, and cotton candy. Don’t children already have the urge to gnaw on their writing instruments without enticing them with snacks at their fingertips every time they scratch out a word on paper?

Two problems with The Claw, a foot-high replica of the game seen often in store lobbies and malls, are that players have to fill the machine with their own small treats and there is no hope of grabbing a worthwhile prize like a stuffed animal. Wouldn’t a player be better off peering into the glass and trying to telepathically send a message to grappler Baron von Raschke who could apply his submission hold of the Claw upon the relative who foisted this present upon him or her until the giver screamed “uncle” (or “aunt”) and came up with a more suitable gift?

One question asked by the copywriters of the catalog is easy to answer. “Who isn’t impressed by a unicycle rider?” Anyone who knows that one is the loneliest number there could ever be. Numerous nine-year-olds are still wobbling on three wheels; many people never feel comfortable even on two wheels. The parent who spends $90.00 on this gift for Christmas might just as well print one of the “make offer” signs often seen at rummage sales as soon as the box is opened because that is where Lonely Uni will be the following spring.

In fact, yard sales are where most of these presents will spend their future. A suggestion to the party foolish enough to spend $40.00 for the Time Capsule: Bury the smaller gifts you purchased from this catalog in the capsule. Suggestion number two: Forget where you bury it.





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