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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

Striver parents want toys to 'cram learning into playtime'

For ambitious parents, toys are supposed to "cram learning into playtime," writes Alex Blasdel in The Guardian. "Is it time for a rethink?"

American families spend an average of $600 a year on toys, he writes. Most are billed as educational.

Parents "want toys to get their children into Harvard," toy-industry consultant, Richard Gottlieb told Blasdel.

Parents have misread the science on brain development, writes Blasdel.

With the rise of neuroscience in the second half of the 20th century, toys were increasingly marketed and purchased for the purpose of building better brains in order to build more competitive and successful grownups – to make Homo sapiens that were a little more sapient.
. . . Over the next 30 years, the belief took root that we have to stimulate young children’s brains through toys, bilingualism and snatches of intrauterine Bach in order to ensure those brains are forming and maintaining the maximum number of synapses, so that children can reach their fullest potential and avoid lifelong drudgery, misery or even criminality. In the late 1990s, the neuroscience writer and research funder John T Bruer dubbed this “the myth of the first three years”.

Children learn the most from simple, open-ended toys, such as blocks, sticks, dolls and sand, say researchers. The child is in charge.

Educational toys tend to do too much, leaving little for the child to figure out. "The best toys are 90% the kid, 10% the toy,” said Kathy Hirsh-Pasek, a psychologist at Temple University. “If it’s 90% the toy, and 10% the kid, that’s a problem.”

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