Former FCC Commissioner Nicholas Johnson once said, "All
television is educational television. The question is
what is it teaching?"
teach important life skills such as Communication,
Cooperation, Problem Solving, Planning & Strategy,
Logical Thinking, and Cause & Effect.
The same could be said about toys. All toys teach. Every
single one of them. Without exception. The question is
what are they teaching?
Important Life Skills
The Great Toys teach important life skills such as
Communication, Cooperation, Problem Solving, Planning &
Strategy, Logical Thinking, and Cause & Effect.
Don't believe it? Let's take an easy example - Dolls.
When your daughter plays with a doll, what does she do?
She talks to the doll and gives the doll a voice with
which to reply (communication). She invites other
friends & their dolls to play with her (communication
& cooperation). She sets up tea parties, setting
tables, figuring out who sits where and what the
schedule of events will be (planning & strategy).
She plays out scenes where her doll is sick and needs
her help (problem solving). She mimics roles of
responsibility by being "responsible" for her baby and
has to think through her actions and how they affect her
doll (logical thinking). If she has a doll that
cries she's also learning cause & effect.
Dolls are just one example of what we call Role Play
Toys that includes action figures, wooden trains,
kitchens, dress-up clothes, puppets, and themed playsets
like Imaginext & Playmobil.
Along with encouraging children to use their
imagination, Role Play Toys are great teachers of
Communication, Cooperation, and Planning & Strategy -
skills we use in our everyday lives.
Here's another example - Lego.
When your child opens his first Lego set he immediately
builds the model that the set is designed to make (following
directions = logical thinking). If he screws up
along the way he has to figure out how to get back on
track (problem solving). Eventually he decides to
build something new with the pieces he has (planning
& strategy), making changes along the way (problem
solving again). When he is done, he often has a
model that moves or has other actions (cause & effect),
or a Role Play Toy that incorporates all the skills
Lego is just one of the many Construction Toys on the
market including K'Nex, Erector Sets, Gears, Marble
Mazes, Lincoln Logs, Tinker Toys, Wooden Blocks and
Along with encouraging children to use their
imagination, Construction Toys are great teachers of
Planning & Strategy, Problem Solving, Logical Thinking,
Math Skills, and Cause & Effect.
Is it any wonder that seven of
Our Top Ten Toys are
either Role Play Toys or Construction Toys? (Wooden
Blocks, Dolls, Puppets, Dress-up Clothes, Lego,
Playmobil, and Wooden Trains.)
Yes, toys do teach. What are your kids learning?
The Great Toys - toys that are Open-Ended,
Interactive and Creative - not only keep our
children entertained, but also challenge them to think,
to use their brains, and explore their imaginations. In
Part 1, you saw the examples of Dolls (Role Play Toys)
and Lego (Construction Toys) showing how these skills
are taught through simple play.
Quality DOES matter. And the quality of the toys you buy
teaches your children a very important lesson.
But teaching through toys goes much deeper than that.
Parents need to be involved in their children's play at
some level. Parental involvement helps you steer the
direction of play, helps you understand your child's
abilities, and helps you reinforce the learning you hope
But toys are also a means by which we occupy our
children so that we can accomplish our own tasks. "Go
play with your toys," is a common phrase in many
But when children run off with their Role Play Toys like
Rescue Heroes, Hot Wheels, or Playmobil or Construction
Toys like Lego or K'Nex, there are "hidden lessons" they
are learning, too.
Let's take Rescue Heroes for example. Rescue Heroes are
action figures but with one little twist - they have no
enemies. All other action figures from Power Rangers to
Superman to GI Joe have enemies - bad guys to be
That is not saying that bad guys and enemies are
no-no's. But think about the lessons taught. To be a
good guy you have to "defeat" a bad guy. This can add an
element of competitiveness to the play, not to mention
the dangerous notion that if you're not with us, you're
Rescue Heroes, on the other hand, help those who are in
danger - usually from a natural calamity. The hidden
lesson? It is important to help those who need help.
Which of these lessons would you like your youngster to
emulate? Defeat those against you, or Help
those in need?
Barbie and Bratz
Dolls are another classic example. The two leaders in
the category are Barbie and Bratz. Barbie has received a
lot of criticism over the years for being too skinny,
too well-endowed, or just plain too unattainable in
looks. She has been accused of causing eating disorders
in children who try to meet her image of beauty.
Whether you agree or disagree with the criticism, there
are some hidden lessons for girls who idolize such
dolls. At least Mattel has made Barbie more than just a
fashion icon. Despite her "faults" (since when is beauty
a fault?) Barbie has also been a Doctor and a Dentist,
worked at McDonald's, and even been confined to a
wheelchair. Beauty isn't everything to Barbie (although
it still plays a major role).
On the other hand, the doll that is trying to supplant
Barbie at the top is the very popular Bratz dolls. Their
lesson? Fashion and attitude! Take the most
objectionable part of Barbie and match it with a
selfish, me-first, I-get-what-I-want attitude. Then
market it to kids who quickly emulate that attitude by
demanding that their parents buy these dolls.
And yet, each year Bratz dolls gain ground on Barbie
An alternative is the Groovy Girls. Although Groovy
Girls do espouse fashion, they do it without the
unattainable physical looks of the Barbie dolls and none
of the attitude of the Bratz dolls. To customers who are
looking for the Bratz dolls, ask yourself, "Would you
rather your daughter grow up to be a Brat or be Groovy?"
Yes, there are "hidden lessons" in toys. As the parent,
you owe it to your kids to take control of what your
children are learning by looking at how toys teach, both
on the surface and below.
Remember - every toy teaches. What do you want your kids
live in an "everything must be cheaper, cheaper is
better" world. Over 90% of the advertisements you see on
TV, read in the paper, or hear on the radio talk about
"low prices", "free giveaways", "special discounts" and
Here's a little clue for you. Those special savings you
might get are not coming out of the profit of the
company. It's coming out of the quality of the product.
an effort to have the lowest possible prices, companies
like Wal-Mart, Target and K-Mart are forcing
manufacturers to cut more and more corners to keep their
own prices down. End result? Cheaper, lower quality
But consumers are eating up those sales, discounts and
savings encouraging the companies to continue this
And so the prices drop lower and lower and the quality
goes down and down and down. Eventually, everything
becomes disposable. If it breaks, throw it out and buy a
new one. Hey, at these prices, you can afford it.
There is an underlying lesson we are teaching our kids
when price becomes the end-all, be-all decision maker in
the items we buy - that there is no value in quality. No
value in craftsmanship, no value in workmanship, no
value in making products that last.
And when there is no value placed on quality products,
how do we teach kids the value of quality work? How can
we ask our kids to do quality schoolwork when we show by
our actions that quality doesn't count? How can we
expect them to put forth their best effort in the
classroom when we aren't willing to pay for effort in
the manufacturing world? When we accept the notion that
"cheaper is better" we are saying that hard work is not
necessary, that attention to detail is not important,
that putting in a little more effort is not worth it.
Our children learn value by watching where we put our
When price becomes king and cheaper is better, we also
sacrifice service. Having helpful, knowledgeable people
who want to take care of our needs is no longer
important. It's okay to be rude and inconsiderate, just
have the lowest price.
These lessons are being taught every day. Wal-Mart
doesn't build hundreds of new stores each year because
you want better-built products and more knowledgeable
staffs. They continue to grow because consumers continue
to demand lower prices (and, therefore, cheaper
Value does count. You should get the most for your
money. But, as with everything in life, there are
consequences for our actions. And our actions teach our
children what is important and what is not.
For children, it starts with toys. When you buy
high-quality toys that are built to last, you teach your
children that there is value in hard work and in doing
things the right way. You teach your children that it is
okay to expect the best. When you buy cheap toys that
break easily and are replaced often you teach your
children that "enough to get by" is "good enough" and
that sloppy work is okay. You can just move on and do
something else when what you're doing isn't good enough.
When you shop where price is king at the expense of any
kind of real service, you teach that friendliness and
helpfulness are not important in life. When you shop
where customer service is more than a red-vested greeter
at the front door, then you teach that there is value in
how we treat each other, and that it is okay to ask for
These are real lessons, and one more proof that toys
really do teach.
Your kids learn from watching you. What do you want them
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