The other day, I found myself in Toy’R’Us shopping for a present for a one-year old, and I must say that I was highly amused.
First, I wound up choosing the See ‘n Say as her birthday gift. I’m going to go out on a limb and say that 99.576% of American children from my generation grew up with this toy, especially if I take into account the unsubstantiated Wikipedia factoid that Mattel introduced this toy to the market in 1965. However, technology has brought some new friends to the barnyard. I feel a little deprived that I couldn’t sit on the floor learning what geese, mice, and owls sounded like. I think instead of today’s 16 animals, I might have been constrained to 8. I also walked uphill to school both ways.
What really amused me though was the aisle of LeapFrog toys. I’m still highly suspicious of tech-oriented toys for the young. I cherish my memories of being outdoors peeling dandelion stems and throwing them into water so they would curl up like gourmet pasta noodles. After that, hours of playing restaurant with Jillian would ensue. And, I got a kick out of one of my student’s accounts of rigging up her little Red Rider wagon to look like a covered wagon, so she could traverse the wilds of her backyard. Imagination, not batteries, is the best foundation for play.
However, LeapFrog started to win me over with their phonics toys. It’s pretty hard for an English teacher to resist the picture of riding down the road hearing the electronic din of “dog — da, da, dog” in the backseat. (My kids have no hope of escaping this. Did I mention that I almost did a cartwheel when a package containing The Man Who Loved Books Too Much arrived today?)
The best toy though was the Fix and Learn Speedy, featured in this cheesy commercial. I was playing with the features that teach kids shapes, and Speedy told me, “We’re running out of gas. Push the circle to fill the gas tank.” So, I pushed the circle, and a cute little glug-glug-glug-glug noise came from the toy. Then, I kid you not, Speedy asked me, “Was that biodiesel?” To this day, I haven’t yet figured out which big energy company has corporate ties to LeapFrog.