28 April 2008

A note about children's toys

Hi -

Doesn't the world need some more inventive, higher-quality, thoughtfully-created toys for 1-2 year-olds? I am satisfied with many children's books, and with time-tested things that result in long-term, "deep" play: dolls to dress up and feed, pretend kitchens, train sets, tricycles, blocks, gears... But outside of that collection, I think we're wanting. Sauntering into K-B Toys I couldn't help but think, "This place is all cheap plastic in different shapes."

Engineering-esque comment: some manufacturers, like VTech, embed electronics in toys to make them talk or help toddlers learn the alphabet or names of animals. But many of these toys use circuitry that omits the high-frequency components of sound. Or, that's not quite it, they're aliased. What I mean is that "bee" and "dee" sound alike, as do "eff" and "ess."

Here's a spectrograph. See how "s" is way up high? Click it.

(from here)

Is this harmful, developmentally? I suppose not, since kids are around talking people all day. But c'mon, would it really blow the bill-of-materials to spend another quarter on a better DAC and a touch more RAM? Believe me, this stuff can be had CHEAP.

On the other hand, there are pockets of innovation. We couldn't guess what one toy's function could possibly be (a gift to Toby last year.) Here's a photo: the Playskool Busy Basics Busy Ball Popper. This thing is amazing! The 1 year-olds and adults all want a turn. When you press the button, silly music begins to play, a fan turns on, and hollow plastic balls either shoot out of the toy or hover in the air. When the song ends, the balls fall back in (except for the ones you chase around the room) and it begins again. Anyhow, it's one example of a toy whose function isn't obvious from its form. In a good way.

Come to think of it, Playskool / Hasbro's products strike me like the result of significantly more play-testing than others. It is worth it.

A final thought: do any of you recommend toys that do a deceptively simple job of teaching basic scientific principles? For example, we got Toby the "optic wonder" at a boutique toy store in Saratoga Springs. It is a little green gadget with four lenses on hinges, a mirror, and a compass. Toby and I can look at the TV pixels close-up, project an image of the ceiling lamp onto the table, and swing out all the lenses to make binoculars. [Woah, discontinued!? Figures.]


1 comment:

Kitchen Playsets Are Sure Winners said...

I'm seeing more of a trend back to the toys of yesterday. Even my 26 year old son-who used to be the video game junkie of all times-thinks that some of the older, more traditional toys like the pretend play kitchens, rocket ships and wooden blocks are better for his 2 year old son than the more modern Vtechs, etc.

Oh..and we did get one of those Vtechs for our grandson on his birthday! I agree with you on the sound thing. When we enter our grandsons name into the story, and then play back the story you can barely understand his name.

The oldies but goodies will always stand the test of time.