Ostentatiously educational

I’m starting to loathe about half of our baby toys. The VTech ones, the LeapPad ones, and pretty much anything else electronic. They claim to be targetted at babies aged six months plus, but they’re not. They are entirely targetted at the over-pushy, socially ambtious aspirations of middle-class parents – or at the very least, at the companies’ perceptions of those parents. But they’re probably right, they don’t do these things without researching the market first.

The thing is, you can’t really blame the manufacturers. However noble their intentions, six month old babies don’t buy toys – their parents do. So their priority is, naturally, to appeal to parents, partly by appearing to appeal to babies*, but mostly by tapping into parental aspirations for those babies.

That is the only explanation that I can come up with, for why my six-month-old baby’s toys are endeavouring to teach him the alphabet. I mean, really. What is the point? Counting and letter work are for children, not babies. Three at the youngest, and only then if they’re both bright and keen. At six months, it should be all about music, and shape, and texture, and maybe some dexterity and motor skills. He’s still learning what happens when you let go of a toy over an empty space. Not only is it inappropriate to expect him to learn to count at this stage, 1) it’s never going to happen, and 2) it’s a distraction from the things he should be learning.

Leap Frog Phonics Radio - one I don?t hate as muchAnd don’t get me started on big statements about “Learning Fun”. That’s for my benefit, not his, and is to make me think “Oh good, this is an educational toy” – as if there was such a thing as a non-educational toy, and as if he would ever bother to play with it if there was…

In defence of VTech, LeapPad and the rest, I think they meandered into the baby market by accident, and exceeded their expertise in the process. Their older-kids toys are great – Daisy is genuinely learning the alphabet from her Leap Frog Phonics Radio, and seems to enjoy doing it, in a now-and-then, when-she-feels-like-it sort of way. Doing basically the same things in toys for babies, though, doesn’t make much sense to me.

* Fortunately, the effect is alleviated by this simple truth: the easiest way to appear to appeal to a baby, is to actually do so. If that wasn’t true, the toys would be even worse.