Dust bunny: An eco-smart baby toy

Babies don’t like costly, colorful developmental toys, writes Joanna Weiss in the Boston Globe. Her infant son loves to play with lint.

I’m thinking of starting a company that sells lint. Lint, dust balls, and small pieces of string. It would have a name designed to attract well-meaning new parents, like “Crawling Companions’’ or “Motor Skills Mates.’’ Or something with the word “Genius’’ in it.

Her son is entranced by “a piece of string he found on the living room rug, or a piece of curved plastic from a water bottle wrapper.”

It’s yet another reason to feel good about having a not-so-spotless house. (Another one: Dirt triggers the immune system! It’s true!) But it also highlights what many well-meaning parents and grandparents already know: Those carefully designed developmental toys quite often go to waste. One friend told me her toddler plays almost exclusively with the dust bunnies that have built up since her younger brother arrived this spring. A set of exquisitely designed European toys, meanwhile, sits desolately on a shelf.

The latest baby toys claim  to “promote development and early education, to woo parents with the promise that a toy can help with movement, make babies smarter, or instill some nascent sense of social consciousness,” Alison Marek, managing editor of s toy industry trade magazine. tells Weiss.  “The most recent trends, Marek said, include eco-friendly toys in earth-toned colors.”

Weiss suggests putting the baby on grass.

When you’re young, everything’s educational.

About Joanne


  1. > When you’re young, everything’s educational.

    Yes, but some things are more educational than others. And the suggestion in this post, that we should have the babies make the choice – is absurd.

  2. <<<the suggestion in this post, that we should have the babies make the choice – is absurd.

    But allowing 5 and 6 year olds to self-select literature and make their own curricular choices in a "child-centered classroom" is sound pedagogy.


  3. deirdremundy says:

    Infants don’t learn much from their toys anyway. What they really crave, and need, is interaction with their parents. A fancy toy may distract the baby for a while, but in the end, an involved mom and a paper towel roll is more educational than a rack of baby-genius-einstein-multi-textured wonders.

    (BTw–can’t kids explore textures by exploring their own house? Who lives in a uni-colored, uni-textured environment? As long as your kid’s not confined to a playpen all day, there’s plenty to stimulate him! Of course, a crawling baby does make the house a LOT messier……)

  4. Is this like the old saying that the kid has more fun with the box than the toy that came in the box?

  5. My little one’s favorite toys are exactly the same as my favorites, thirty years ago–plastic keys, shaped plastic blocks in a bucket, those stacking rings, square wood blocks–and he doesn’t like the baby Einstein stuff his grandma got him (second hand) to keep at her house.

    He plays with me a lot, but there’s also times (more frequent) that he pushes me away to play and explore by himself on the living room floor.

  6. My 6 month old’s favorite thing to play with at the moment is our stray sock pile. She finds those fancy electronic toys too overstimulating…

  7. Tracy W says:

    Stephen Downes – how exactly do you propose to make babies play with whatever you think they should be playing with?

    Robert – the situations are different. A baby is learning how to interact with the world – seeing, walking, grabbing, things that all mammals have been learning how to do for millions of years. Schoolrooms are teaching formal knowledge that only developed over thousands of years

  8. Parent2 says:

    Parents should monitor string and plastic wrappers, as they’re both choking hazards. Babies also love balloons, but need supervision. At a certain age, everything goes in the mouth.

    An empty cardboard box, a ball, stacking cups, a saucepan and spoon, and a rattle. Large metal spoons. Keys. A plastic mirror. An old telephone. Homemade play dough.

    In contrast to some modern parents, I like playpens. Children should learn to amuse themselves, and there is such a thing as too much parental involvement.

  9. deirdremundy says:

    If you do a decent job child-proofing, the whole house becomes a playpen!!

    My crawlers don’t want constant interaction, but they have the whole house at their disposal. (dangerous things and breakables are up high. If they can reach it, they can have it.)

    So, of course, fancy toys are less interesting than spoons, books, tupperware, drawers, hampers, paper, etc…. We have toys, of course. (Blocks, little people, and pretend food seem to be the perennial favorites.) But the super-educational stuff? Your kid will learn more from a walk in the sling (where you can point out dogs, trees, and cars).

    We do use a playpen at Christmas sometimes — if we have a toddler, we put the tree in it to keep the ornaments safe! And we bring one when we have to visit a non-child-friendly home. But if you want an educational environment for your child, ditch the playpen and let them explore your home— after all, kids are members of the family too, so why treat them like goldfish or hamsters?

  10. Mark G. says:

    My question is whether all the fancy toys, videos and “my six month old can read Homer!” products have any real long term benefit more than parent-time, hand-me-down picture books, and building forts with the couch cushions. The super-early reading programs are what concern me–is there evidence that learning to read at age one really helps? I think the masses have learned to read (ages 3-5 or so) when they do because that is when the brain is ready. It’s like those parents in the movies to enroll their kids in some illustrious preschool before the child is even conceived. Does it make a difference, really? Is the kid more guaranteed to be a functioning, productive, positive member of society?

    In American consumer society after all, it’s not about raising smart kids, it’s all about making money…and exploiting fears and uncertainties to make money. No one wants their kid to grow up to be inadequately intelligent, so it’s a perfect fear to target, manipulate and exploit. And parents take the bait…I’m as guilty as many with my two kids, except sticker-shock forced me long ago to rethink what was really going on here.

  11. Mark Roulo says:

    …after all, kids are members of the family too, so why treat them like goldfish or hamsters?

    I don’t think I have ever seen a goldfish or a hamster in a playpen 🙂

    -Mark Roulo

  12. SuperSub says:

    Stacking rings, blocks, and insert-a-shape balls are all the toys a toddler needs.

    The only thing that those ‘early development’ toys and videos will develop is ADHD.

  13. Allison says:

    Have none of you heard of the CPSIA?


    Sell that dustbunny without testing for lead–and it WILL come back above the currently allowed Congressional standard–and without a batch tracking number, and you will be fined thousands, and able to be sued for more.

    The CPSIA is a real disaster. Read about what it’s doing to libraries, used bookstores, garage sales. Every old book you want to buy your kids? Outlawed. This madness is driving science kits out of business, too.

  14. LOL! Too funny but SO TRUE! My son wants to play with everything but his “baby toys”.