Did you say learning toy?


A certain purple caterpillar is currently the bone of contention between the OPU and me. It was bought by him (while he was overwhelmed with emotion, in his words) as a ‘get well soon’ present when Re hit a table and cut his lip a few months ago.

I found it annoying. First, because it was a learning toy. The very phrase is an oxymoron, because if it’s a toy, it has no business to teach anything.  So the moronic caterpillar (called Alphabet Pal, ironically) has the following features: Press this and it will mouth phonetic sounds. Press that and it will play the tune of a silly nursery rhyme. Press that and it will vomit alphabets. Press that and it will tell you what colour it is. And so on.

Re hasn’t spent more than 60 seconds on it. This proves that he is not a moron.  The toy cost 1799. That is what I call a bad ROI.

I always find parents moaning that their kids never play with the toys they buy them, and yet, every time you walk into a toy store, and there they are, shopping like lunatics. What are they thinking? This might be the one? These 3000 rupees will be well spent? This toy will live longer than 60 seconds?

I figured I will not indulge in such material excesses and joined a toy library. On day one, I asked the lady in charge if she has a toy that doesn’t try to teach anything. She was stumped. She said that’s tough, because everything they had was designed to teach something. There went my enthusiasm. But at least I was eco-friendly, I thought. Slowly, I discovered a set of foam blocks that became Re’s favourite. The colours, the textures, the making, the breaking. I am all for motor skills. Anything that doesn’t involve learning the alphabet. Or some silly words like ‘please’ and ‘thank you’. Or sillier nursery rhymes. And what business does a baby have learning what a dinosaur is, considering he is never going to see one?

On the other hand, there is my kitchen and all its steel south-indian excesses that Re loves. Kadais, dekchis, pressure cookers (with seetis, mind you), saucepans, chapati rollers and the rest. You bet, the mother had palmed off some of the utensils she’d been collecting (for my marriage!) since my childhood. I bet most of them came from giving away our own clothes to the bhandiwala. I liked that bit of history too, and filed it away, thinking one day, I will tell him where that Prestige pressure cooker came from.

And kurmura is the new cool in Re’s life. I give him a bowlful every day. He eats some, uses some for cooking, pretends some is rice, some is tea, and some are garlic pods  to sauté (ever since onion and garlic became as expensive as caviar, they don’t figure in his playthings). He can stay in the kitchen all day unless he is pulled out. It’s great ROI. Money spent: zero. Joy gained: unlimited. Good toy.

Now take a quick look at your inventory of toys and tell me how many duds you found.


13 thoughts on “Did you say learning toy?

  1. So darn true! I get annoyed with the toys that are constantly making noise in the background. If my daughter chances to like one I am scared that she will enter the zombie land of staring into it wildly and doing everything it says.

    I like to teach my daughter and not TV or games to do that. If that is the way to become a genius then I will accept a mediocre daughter who enjoys a meal with her parents in a restaurant or watch out of the window when in a car instead of staring at a stupid DVD player playing cartoons.

    My husband I have kept toys to a minimum. In a total of three years, we have bought her two things and she uses both of them extensively even today.

    Love your blog

  2. I’m not a parent and am not coming close to becoming one for the next few years. Though, from what I can tell, there is always this weird race of sorts that parents want their children to run, to learn more. What good is all that learning going to do if you overburden that child. Aren’t the initial years all supposed to be about innocence and letting the child learn on its own while you keep your eyes peeled for him / her? Instead, we get them educational toys when all they really need is to have some pure, unadulterated fun.

    I truly believe children have more fun exploring spaces and people than when left to their toys, it comes to them very effortlessly… it’s their curiosity that makes them learn and not toys…

    The thing about today is in a world of increased disposable income, is that toymakers have started offering fancier “toys” in a bid to boost sales. If only, they put a little thought into the toymaking process; toys are meant to entertain and not teach.

    • Thank you sanika. That is deeply insightful from someone who is not a parent. You are right, we just need to leave our kids alone, and not bombard them with patronising toys which are making the toymakers rich and our kids stupid.

  3. It’s so damn strange but every time you blog…I go…”my thoughts exactly”…Fantastic!
    The same with Dhruv, he couldn’t be bothered with toys and is most happy playing around with kitchen utensils and gives us imaginary food prepared by him. These toys are so grossly overpriced and I am so damn happy that he couldn’t care less for them.

  4. Hi L,
    Jus stumbled upon your blog today and spent the better part of my workday reading it (also your other blog, equally rivetting). I must say I love your style of writing and your thoughts are a breath of fresh air (as opposed to my silly cliches, sorry! :))
    Any plans of writing a book?
    Oh and I’m preggo with my first one right now and will keep coming back here when the advice gets too much and I feel like there’s no sanity left in the world! :p

    • Thanks nitya. Welcome to the blog(s) and congratulations on your first one!
      Yes, the book is underway, but might not pop out before your baby does. Till then, you can always visit here for sanity

  5. Even the youngest of children have sophisticated and powerful ability to learn and I agree they really do not need any sophisticated toy to grow. Sadly parents take wrong lessons from such scientific discoveries & conclude that they need toys or preschools that will make their babies even smarter. Babies & children can learn about the world around through all sorts of real-world objects just about anything in the household and most often from the kitchen!! But you know what all toys in the market aint bad. One needs to know what to pick up from the junk. I would like to extend my thought line here to the fact that as parents; interaction with our babies is more important in their learning process and giving inferences makes them think as they play. (if you would like to feel kicked about watching how intelligent your baby is try showing a picture book to a 9 month old and really show objects on that picture book from your real world and if done consistently, watch your baby evolve into being able to associate and do a lot of cognitive thinking) Indulge in the fantasy of your child & discover what you might learn from her!! toys are fine if you must buy but what eeks me are all toys which have the alphabet, numbers & rhymes which invariably have mindless, destructive words and connotation in them. That leads me into a different discussion altogether. But on the whole such toys should be abandoned.

  6. I fully understand the merits of the Ipad, and yes, technology is not the enemy. What I have a problem with is subjecting children to learning toys at an age when they are still being babies and should not be subjected to learn. My son is 18 months, as as you pointed out, enjoying to play adult with pretend-real-life things and has no patience with toys. Also, buying them endlessly teaches children to hoard and not share, and I am very pro-sharing and recycling.
    Also, I would rather he use his imagination and tactile senses, and there are plenty of things/activities that can revolve around that, rather than presenting a learning toy that only spews alphabets and nursery rhymes, which, honestly, a child has no business to learn at this age. If it’s a toy, it better be about making him happy, stimulating his creativity, entertaining, whatever, but not teaching!

  7. Yes, you have a point, but it’s not about denying the child toys. It’s about not always equating expensive with good, or overloading the child with toys, or covertly trying to teach them alphabets or nursery rhymes through toys at such an early age. My son at 20 months has a lot of hand-me down toys from his cousins which is happy with, and plays a lot. Plus the kitchen is a complete treasure house of surprises for him as are various things he finds on his walks in the garden. As long as they are exploring, they are fine. I recently got him a crazy horn set for 100 rupees from a garage sale. The toy has great history and the person who sold it to me had played with it 30 years ago as a child. I love the fact that there is a story behind each of his toys, rather than going to a sterile toyshop and buying a brand new one. I think children should be introduced to the concept of recycling at an early age. Coming up, a post on the same.

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