Before NDB was born, I really detested all of the brightly colored plastic junk that is so widely available and marketed for babies. Toys that sing, light up, and purport to “teach” anything just irk the ever-livin’ daylights out of me. As a former pre-K teacher, I am a little offended by the idea that the work I did could be replaced by a hunk of plastic from Fisher-Price. Plus, I saw so many kids who had been surrounded by all these so-called “learning toys” but were unable to carry on a conversation and just didn’t display healthy social adjustment. I made my opinion on this known, loudly and widely, while I was pregnant. Thankfully, most people listened and we didn’t get many hideous toys for NDB as gifts.
Now, I should clarify – I’m not opposed to all plastic. I think it’s wonderful that NDB has a few plastic teethers, and we use plastic food storage containers, and I have a plastic toy bin to store things in his room. Plastic toys can be great for fostering imagination, great for pre-math and pre-reading skills, great manipulatives for building fine motor skills.
This is the “Laugh & Learn Learning Birdbath.” According to the manufacturer, it is
“…a unique, yet recognizable learning toy themed as a realistic garden. The
Learning Birdbath exposes baby to numbers and counting when “splashing” the water in the birdbath. Baby will learn colors and shapes through shape sorting
plants in the ground. The garden is home to 2 birds who teach opposites and sing
along to the learning fun. A friendly bat-at buzzing bee flies around while buzzing his own fun tunes. Lights in the “water” and around the birdbath rim encourage and entertain baby during play.”
Babies don’t need plastic birds to teach them opposites. They need real, live, human beings – preferably parents – on their level, singing and talking and working with them to demonstrate opposites. (It’s sort of like that preposterous notion so widely espoused, that teachers can “teach” character traits in a once-weekly, 20-minute “character lesson.” People, kids don’t learn honesty by watching a video and hearing a lecture every seven days. They learn honesty by seeing the grownups around them model honesty. Okay?)
For some reason, my own mother seems the most committed to persuading me to change
my mind. She bought NDB the Fisher-Price Little People Nativity, which lights up and plays “Away In A Manger.” Now, it’s an adorable set, and I think it’s important for kids to have their own nativity set as they play out and understand the Christmas story. So I just didn’t put batteries in it – voila! No singing and dancing and lights.
But when I went to visit her a few weeks ago, she had a Fisher-Price catalog, and she wanted me to pick something from it for a Christmas present for NDB. I showed her the most innocuous item I could find – the alphabet set of Peek-A-Blocks. They are clear blocks, and inside each
one contains a letter of the alphabet and a small item or animal that starts with the letter (the “C” block has a little cat, the “W” block has a slice of watermelon). Yes, they are brightly colored plastic – but they would make for nice, open-ended building play, or fun question-and-answer play as we name the items in the blocks, other items that start with those letters, or spell our
I didn’t want to be rude, but inside I was thinking, “Oh my God, are you kidding me? I refuse to have this monstrosity in my living room! Or anywhere in my house for that matter! It’s gross! What does it do? What does it accomplish? No, no, no, no, no thank you!” What I really said was, “Hmmm. It looks very big.” When we got to the store, and she saw it on the shelf, she agreed with me that it was big. Unfortunately, the store we were in didn’t have any of the alphabet block sets, or I would’ve pushed for those again. I suggested that if she really wanted to get him something from this particular line of toys, the pull-toy caterpillar might be a good choice. (At least it’s a pull toy, which is a nice gross-motor activity. He is standing up independently now, so it’s feasible that he’ll be walking by Christmas – or shortly thereafter. And even though it is brightly colored plastic, it doesn’t light up or make any noises. So it’s a compromise piece!)I just hate that she is choosing to spend her money on this stuff. There are so many websites with absolutely gorgeous, well-made, natural material toys. I’ve done all I can do – I made a list, I gave her websites and phone numbers, and I have dropped plenty of hints. The rest is up to her. For our part, we are getting NDB two wooden toys for Christmas (a walking pushcart, and a toolbench truck) along with one plastic toy (an activity table that has a reversible top – one side is a piano keyboard, the other side is a pegboard for large Duplo-type building blocks). I’m not trying to make it difficult for our family members, but I don’t want to surround my son with junk just because it’s popular either. I want him to have a lot of great playthings to choose from that will help him learn in a natural way, give him open-ended discoveries and imaginary scenarios, and encourage him to trust his instincts. I just don’t think that the majority of the plastic baby crap out there, can do all that.
These are a few of the stores I’ve suggested to our extended
family members, and where we have purchased a few of NDB’s Christmas gifts.