Things that Go Beep
Recently I have been blessed to hang out with families who have small children. I find myself talking about different things when I am around parents, namely because the subject of kids comes up. And if the kids are not the center of attention, then they figure out a way to become the center of attention. But hanging out with kids makes you think about children’s toys, which incidentally connect to our obsession with electronics. Increasingly, kids’ toys are things that go beep.
Sure, we say that the electronics in toys allows a toy to be educational. We can embed information in the toy that allows the child to “learn” without needing to go to an adult. Or we embed stimulation to keep the child entertained. Or, we embed a functionality associated with using a toy the “right” way. Regardless, something happens to kids the more they engage in a programmed, electronic, and/or virtual world.
One thing that seems to be happening is that kids forget how to play. Recently the NY Times has had two articles talking about schools using recess coaches. We surround ourselves and our children in an electronic world. In this regard, I am sort of unique as I have distinct memories of how electronics influenced my play as a child from things such as a Speak-and-Spell to an electronics set to a computer decked out with educational software to the introduction of the internet.
But there’s a question of what happens to a child’s development when all they have to play with are relatively unidirectional electronic toys. Now in no way I am a Luddite, but I think we would benefit from reflecting on the balance of what we bring into our homes. Especially with kids’ toys, we deal with kids losing interest, outgrowing the toy, or breaking the thing. Do we really need to shove all children’s toys full of electronic components?