Author Archives: Rob MacKay

Do Bells and Whistles Make Better Toys?

Last Friday, NPR’s Morning Edition aired an interview with Susan Gregory Thomas, author of Buy Buy Baby. Ms. Thomas doesn’t have a lot of nice things to say about the way many companies market their wares to children. She particularly takes to task the notion that electronic features and “educational toys” enhance or encourage early learning.

The interview is excellent, and we agree with what Ms. Thomas has to say. Many of her comments echo statements I’ve heard from Step2 product designers over the past fifteen years. I’ve never met Ms. Thomas, but I think she’d get along with us pretty well.

Step2 products typically focus on what we call the “open-ended” play experience. As Dotti Foltz, our vice president of marketing communications (and a former schoolteacher) says, “Our products allow the child to direct the play experience rather than having the toy direct the experience.” We believe that’s what a good toy should do.

More Research on Electronic Toys

In yesterday’s Wall Street Journal, Christine Rosen wrote an interesting article (subscription required; free alternate link here) about the effects of electronic toys on child development. The article cites a couple recent studies that question the benefits of electronic learning toys.

Electronic toys have become overwhelmingly popular over the past decade. Many of us in the toy industry have watched this trend with suspicion, believing imagination and human interaction to be at the heart of play–especially for preschool children. It stands to reason that too much technology might get in the way, and it now appears that some bona fide research is confirming this.

At Step2 we’ve introduced electronic features to a modest number of our products. Typically, these have been practical in nature (e.g., a light on the Art Master Activity Desk) or purely to add realistic sound effects to role play toys (e.g., cooking sounds on the collection of LifeStyle Kitchens). Overwhelmingly, our products engage children in open-ended, imaginative play, and this continues to be the focus of our product development efforts. I dare say our products with electronics are just as fun without the batteries.

Frequent Questions about Step2

Like Andy said in his last post, there are primarily two of us here at Step2 who will be writing for this blog. I’m the other guy, Rob MacKay. I’m Andy’s boss, and just for the record, I’m nothing like the pointy-haired boss in Dilbert. At least I hope not.

This is my fifteenth year working for The Step2 Company. Over the years there have been a few questions about the company that I am asked over and over again:

  • Do Step2 and Little Tikes have anything in common? Yes, Step2 was founded by Tom Murdough. Tom is the same guy that started The Little Tikes Company. Tom sold Little Tikes to Rubbermaid (now NewellRubbermaid) in 1984 and left the company in 1989. He started Step2 a couple years later. We are not affiliated with Little Tikes in any way.
  • Is Step2 a public company? No, The Step2 Company, LLC is privately held. In April, 2006 Step2 was acquired by Liberty Partners, a New York-based private equity investment firm.
  • What does the name “Step2″ mean? Step2 refers to a couple of things. First and foremost, the name implies our mission: to go “A Step Beyond” in the development and manufacturing of innovative products for the family and home. It also refers to the fact that this is the second venture for our founder and CEO, Tom Murdough.

Thank you for taking time to visit our site. As Andy said, we look forward to sharing information about our company and hearing your comments along the way.