Unlike the companies behind toy crazes that pried every lemonade-stand nickel from the palms of young consumers — Beanie Babies come to mind — LeapFrog has focused its marketing efforts on busy moms and dads. The strategy has paid off — a playroom strewn with educational toys now has the same sort of social cachet as a Harvard sticker on a Volvo station wagon. “There is a certain fashion to toys,” says Sandy Springer, director of merchandising for Imaginarium, an educational toy retailer operated by Toys R Us. “Parents today are more savvy about what’s out there for their children. If you give too many generic toys and not enough educational [toys], you are not seen to be an intelligent, in-the-know parent.” It’s not just the parents. The learning frenzy is also fueled by pervasive marketing that tries to cast just about every plaything as educational. Manufacturers and retailers of children’s products from mobiles to Matchbox cars are hyping the learning angle, and even the simplest toys have fallen victim: Rattles now “inspire confidence” in infants, and the red rubber playground balls we all know from elementary school are now said to foster an understanding of rules in toddlers. One Amazon.com teacher review of Baby’s First Blocks from Fisher-Price claims, “The toy naturally introduces your child to important mathematical concepts,” in addition to allowing the kid to “to practice visual discrimination.” A wooden puppy-shaped xylophone from Babystyle isn’t billed just for early music development, but also as “great for developing baby’s hand/eye coordination.” And at KBtoys.com, Crayola Sidewalk Chalk is peddled, not to draw hopscotch games or simply have fun, but to inspire your budding “little outdoor artist.”
The last line of the article is priceless:
…parents can make it a priority to set aside some time on a regular basis, shut off the television and all the gadgets, and rather than seeking a leap, simply offer their kids a lap.
There is also a lot of great stuff in between warning against letting an electronic [or any other type] gizmo rear a child.