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.

  1. I for one think the less electronic features a toys has the better. We as a family prefer non-electronic toys. Kids create their own experiences with a non-electronic toy, it is not created for them.

  2. To convince others not to waste money on expensive electronic “educational toys” check out Ebay. There are tons of JUST LIKE NEW listed. Especially the books that supposedly teach reading. A teddy bear that reads to your child is no substitution for YOU reading to your child.
    If we quit buying into the idea that electronics, videos, and computers can teach our kids better than us, we will quit buying their products and they will have to sell something good-like Step 2 toys.

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